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Some Day My Prints Will Come

Although the majority of pictures are viewed online, there is something satisfying about producing and handling a print of a photograph you have taken. Printing allows sharing pictures tangibly with family and friends. Your prints don’t need electronics, cloud accounts, log-ins or any mechanism interposed between the viewer and the image.
It is interesting to observe that in catastrophic events such as floods or bushfires, people try to save their pictures in order to preserve the past. My elderly father sits surrounded by family photographs and never leaves home without some in his shirt pocket.

Currently there are numerous ways of getting prints of your images. These range from self printing booths in chain stores to high end print shops that produce custom work. Between these two extremes are a multitude of very capable photo printers suitable for home use. They range in print size from 6″ X 4″ (150mm X 100 mm) photo printers to A3+, 10 colour archival printers. Your choice depends on your needs and budget, but printing your own work is always a big commitment in time, learning and cost.

The most inexpensive solution is to go into one of the chains or camera stores that offer processors. Insert your card, CD or DVD, select your photos, edit, press print and collect your pictures. Many offer special deals for multiple prints or large numbers in one order. For anyone who doesn’t want to learn the intricacies of printing, this is the best solution.

If you decide to print your own work, an A4 printer is a universal solution. These allow you to print most sizes up to A4. There is a wide choice of papers available in many surface finishes. I prefer the Pearl finishes as they give photographic results without reflections and are suitable for framing. The best printers for photographs are the inkjets. Four and six colour printers are adequate, but 8 colour printers give exceptional results. The extra colours make up for any shortcomings in the colour conversion process which takes place fin downloading rom camera to computer to printer. Extra colours are dedicated to improving skin tones or enhancing colours that are difficult to reproduce such as greens.

I favour Epson inkjet printers, their colour sharpness and ease of use make them my printers of choice for quality photographic results. Photography is the focus of Epson’s printer business, so they offer archival ink sets and advanced optimisation of colour and tonal range. They also offer separate cartridges in various capacities from standard to extra high. Separate cartridges are a must-have feature in a printer. Ink is expensive with replacement ink sets costing many hundreds, if not thousands of dollars over the life of the printer. Replacing ink makes the initial cost of the printer insignificant. Sometimes saving money on buying a printer can be false economy. An extra hundred dollars spent on the initial printer purchase can result in thousands of dollars saved, by more efficient use of the consumables over the life of the printer.

Here are a few of things I’ve learned.

1. Use the manufacturers original ink cartridges. In spite of assurances to the contrary, cheap ‘compatible’ cartridges cause problems that can result in damage the requires you to scrap the printer. I have paid dearly to be able to offer that advice.

2. Don’t use cheap paper. It never ends up saving money. To save money, something has to be left out.  Either the coating is poor and absorbs excessive ink, or you set yourself up for clogged jets through paper dust. Cleaning clogged heads can use a full ink set, which is much more expensive than a sheet of paper.

3. Don’t print drafts on plain paper. You can’t adequately evaluate how your final image will look by printing a draft image on plain paper. Colour gamuts are different as is ink usage. My solution is to have various sizes in the same type of paper. Once I have processed my image, I do a test print on 6 X 4, make any adjustments, then print an A4. If I’m happy, I make my final print on A3+ which is the size I favour. Any larger than that and I use a commercial printing service. I take my A3+ in as a sample to match. This pre-production step saves both time and money and affords me the results I demand.

A few words on processing and calibration.

If you decide to print your own work, it is worthwhile, in fact, I would go as far as to say  essential, to invest in a screen calibrator. A calibrated screen gives you a consistently repeatable method to assess your images. Most computer screens are too bright and even though there are fixed profiles supplied by the manufacturer, screens alter with changes in brightness and colour over time. The most common issue with excessive brightness is that although the image looks OK on screen, when you print, the print is too dark.

Datacolor, X Rite and many others offer calibration solutions. These consist of software and a sensor unit that you connect to the computer and use to measure your screen colour and brightness. To calibrate your screen, the calibration software generates a standardised range of colours and tones on screen, which is read by the calibrator. This in turn adjusts the screen brightness and colour balance to ensure that you are always seeing a consistent image in terms of colour and brightness. Having a screen that is calibrated, allows you to modify your images with the confidence to know your prints will be close to the screen image.

Print Profiles
Reputable paper manufacturers offer downloadable printer profiles for their papers. These are tested and matched to your printer model and ink set to give you the best possible results for the printer, ink and paper combination. I process all of my images in
Lightroom 4 which now incorporates integrated soft proofing. This feature generates an on screen representation of your final printed image using the same paper profile and colour gamut of your chosen printer. This allows you to make adjustments to ensure a near perfect print prior to using a drop of ink or sheet of paper. This feature, coupled with a correctly calibrated monitor will save you thousands of dollars and hours of frustration.

I hope this technical background doesn’t discourage you from trying your own printing at home. As a commercial photographer shooting film, I was tied to commercial labs for processing and printing. This involved massive commitments in time and money with satisfactory results, but no ability for exploration and experimentation in the process.

Freed from the darkroom and noxious chemicals, photographers can now print their own work and experiment. This is one of the most absorbing and satisfying pursuits a photographer can undertake, but it requires commitment. Don’t think you can buy a printer, hook it up and start producing masterpieces. It won’t happen. However, if you carefully choose a printer suited to your needs, being aware of the ongoing consumable costs, invest in good paper and process your work using a calibrated monitor, your first print will transport you to a world of appreciation, enjoyment and satisfaction from photography that has to be experienced to be believed.

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Snipers Shoot Real People

In these days of photographers using everything from smart phones to tablets, added to the diverse variety of actual cameras, most people are now very aware when you point a camera at them – and they react accordingly.

One friend of mine always puts her hand in front of her face, or turns away whenever I try to include her in a photograph. Children are now so aware of cameras that it is rare to get a natural, unposed candid photo. A photographer friend of mine has conditioned her grandchildren to grudgingly accept being photographed on most family occasions. They pose in order to get back to Facebook, or whatever activity has been interrupted by her desire to immortalise them.

Depending on the country, travel photographers can still get natural candid portraits in the less travelled destinations, well off the tourist track, but these opportunities for candids are becoming rarer. The golden days of camera safaris to capture natural photos of unaware subjects going about daily life have long gone. More than once, I have been presented with aggression, stupid expressions, elevated middle fingers or have been hassled for money after raising my camera to take a snapshot in public places like local markets.

What do you do if you want unposed quality portraits that show people as they are, rather than interacting with you? I call this Sniping.

To me, Sniping is the art of candid portraiture where the subject is totally unaware of the photographer, has no interaction, and so behaves completely naturally. To do this effectively, you need need a camera with a long telephoto lens. There are a number of Super Zooms such as the Panasonic Lumix FZ200 which features a 24 – 610mm ƒ2.8 lens. There are other equally capable offerings from Canon, Sony, Nikon and Fuji. They all feature image stabilised, super tele-lenses, but are limited in how far you can increase ISO to get sufficient shutter speed for hand holding. They are reasonably priced and extremely capable, however, for the best results you need one of the compact, lightweight telephoto lenses I mentioned in my previous blog ‘Bring them Closer’ with an image stabilised 70-300 mm telephoto zoom lens on a DSLR. One that is capable of high quality images at high ISO is perfect.

The reason you need good high ISO performance lies in the fact that even in bright sunlight you are shooting moving subjects with a long lens that has a small minimum aperture. You need high shutter speeds and to achieve them, high ISO. With high ISO comes the penalty of increased noise.

The old rule of thumb that your minimum shutter speed needs to be the reciprocal of the focal length is never more applicable than in this pursuit. To clarify, to hold a 300mm lens steady, it needs a minimum shutter speed of 1/300th of a second or better. Add to this the fact that you are mostly dealing with randomly moving subjects, a bit of anxiety and variable lighting and you will soon see that 1/500th of a second, or more, is desirable. The image stabilisation helps a bit, but if you want really sharp results, handheld on moving subjects, I wouldn’t rely on it too much below 1/160th of a second.

High ISO, coupled with low noise, narrows the choice of camera somewhat. DX format cameras are compact, perform better than very small sensor point and shoot cameras, but generally get noisy at ISO 800 and above. On these affordable cameras, you can get reasonable shots at ISO 1250 and sometimes up to 2000. These speeds are workable if you choose situations that keep them within their more restricted parameters. Photographing slower moving subjects in better lighting will give you satisfactory results.

The high ISO low noise champions are the NIkon D4 and Nikon D3S, the Canon 5DMk3 and 7D as well some offerings from Sony. With these cameras, 10,000-12,800 ISO gives relatively, but not totally, noise-free pictures. But they allow you free rein in low light with high shutter speeds. I have seen acceptable results with the D3S at ISO 52,000 with a single candle for illumination.

Once you have chosen your camera, good Sniping technique dictates that you remain unobtrusive. You need to blend into the surroundings. Standing in shadow, or using natural shelter and observing carefully, will allow you to get the type of shots you’re after.

You need to be very aware of the light, because you have no control over the position of your subject in relation to it. It is not unusual to find back, side and harsh front lighting, all within your one area of operation. In order to get great shots, this variability necessitates quick shooting and extreme concentration. It entails rapid changes to metering mode, from spot to matrix to centre weighted, radical changes in ISO and liberal use of exposure compensation. The pace can get pretty frenetic when the light’s changing and people are moving quickly, but the rewards and self satisfaction are enormous. You get pictures of people the way they really are, no posturing for the camera, no masks.

It’s a tough technique to master, but Sniping offers great rewards.

 

Right Place, Wrong Time

The fateful words “You should have been here yesterday”, is a catch phrase that has dogged me for most of my professional career. You generally hear it after arriving at a location for a long planned photographic shoot. No matter how good your research, you can’t beat mother nature. With the luxury of unlimited time, you can wait around for conditions to improve. I was never afforded that luxury, because I was generally up against an advertising or publishing deadline. Books, magazines and television wait for no man and certainly not the weather.

The result of a roadside stop while searching for a pine grove

The result of a roadside stop while searching for a pine grove

However meticulous your planning, some condition or other will always challenge you and force you to modify your plans. Coping with these problems is all in your approach. You must remain flexible and embrace surprise. The reward is that your work will improve and your pictures will contain unplanned, spontaneous elements that can be much better than those you originally envisioned.

That said, proper planning is still essential. You must try and eliminate as many variables as possible. As a pilot of many years, I realised that this strategy is ingrained from your flying training and can be applied equally well to photography.

When flying, you do your plan, check the weather and make sure your equipment is fully functional before you set off. However, once you get airborne, you check your progress and modify your plans to suit the actual conditions, which are invariably different to those that you planned. Flexibility is the key. Your objective in flying is to arrive safely, in photography it is to get the shot. While it may end up being a different shot than the one you planned, it may also be far better.

Returning to our location where the weather or time of day weren’t what we expected, how do we cope? Firstly, leave your camera in its case,  get out and walk around the area. “Why”, I hear you ask, “I’m here to take pictures, so I must have my camera.”

The answer is that a camera imposes a constricted vision of the location on you. You need to really see the location, study it and absorb the atmosphere; that is you need to understand ‘the big picture’ not just the details.Rock in a Hard Place

Look at and see what’s actually there, not what your plan said should be there. Where’s the light coming from? What are the shadows like? Is there lots of colour, or none? Is the sky interesting? If it’s not, exclude it. If the foreground is dull, include more sky. Should the image be broad, or tight? This affects the lens you need; wide angle or telephoto. Once you have walked around, absorbed the atmosphere and decided what you want to shoot, stop and look behind you. Is the view you’re looking at now, better than the one you just decided to photograph? Many times I have found this to be exactly the situation. Again really seeing and remaining flexible is the key.

This shot resulted from looking around while the camera was on the tripod

This shot resulted from looking around while the camera was on the tripod

On an early light aircraft trip to Ayer’s Rock, I went out to the famous sand hill and with everyone else, stood marveling at the changing light on the rock, red sky and intense colours. I really enjoyed the spectacle and atmosphere, but I didn’t lift my camera. I could have bought the same picture and better, at the souvenir shop. Next day I drove around the base of the rock to a private area, parked and walked straight towards it through the scrub. It was midday. Absolutely the wrong time to be out there. Harsh shadows and heat.

The amorphous, shimmering red lump started developing form. It got bigger, more commanding and started revealing astonishing detail which was enhanced by the harsh light. Caves, holes, rock slides, trees struggling to survive, plants dried out by the sun shading the tiny plants and grasses that thrived in the red dirt.

The number of photographic opportunities that presented themselves were almost overwhelming. I spent hours shooting everything from rocks, to plants, to insects.
I was amazed at the scale of the rock in relation to its surroundings and wondered what it was like from above. Next day I flew round the rock, close in and got a number of frames out of the window of the Cessna 210. I needed a full frame fish-eye to get it all in. It isn’t the shape you expect. It is striated and angled and rises out of nowhere. On one circuit, my shot included the Olgas. Once I got home and processed the results, there were numerous shots that I loved and those photographs were sold to many publishers. The success of the pictures was a direct result of me taking the time to absorb the area and then find the unexpected.

So now back to your planned location. Get out your camera and take a few test shots. Check them carefully. A Hoodman Loupe, or iPad is a very handy aid to enlarge the image and see it as an actual photograph, not just a little facsimile that can hide flaws.

Beer Garden Fence (1 of 1)

I saw this on the way back from photographing the forest and unpacked the camera.

One last piece of advice. While your camera is safely on the tripod, take another careful look around, particularly behind you, you will be surprised at what you missed.

In summary, plan carefully, research your location using every source possible, but when you arrive, be flexible enough to adapt to the unexpected conditions. Follow this advice and you will always be in the right place at the right time, because in creative photography, there is no wrong time.

Compose Yourself

When we first begin taking pictures, our subjects are usually always in the centre of the frame. This is because we want to ensure that we got the shot. In an earlier post, I suggested moving closer to improve your pictures. This adds drama to your pictures and concentrates on the subject. This technique immediately improves your photography.

As you become more experienced, your composition should progress as well. We may find out, either by experimentation or education, about the Rule of Thirds. This is where the image area is divided into thirds, both horizontally and vertically to help make composition more dynamic. The Rule of Thirds is so essential to good composition, that some cameras and iPhone Apps offer this division electronically via lines on the viewfinder. Also, there are screens available for high-end DSLRs that are engraved into thirds with fine lines. This shows just how important this concept is. In practice, for example shooting a landscape, if you allow either the sky or the foreground to occupy the top or bottom two thirds of the frame, your pictures will have far more impact. Including a person, or element in the left or right third of the frame, adds even more interest.

Flower photographed to illustrate combined Rule of Thirds and diagonal composition.

Flower photographed to illustrate combined Rule of Thirds and diagonal composition.

In portraiture, close-ups where the head occupies the full frame and the eyes are in the top third of the frame are very dynamic. Cropping into the top of the hair can make your portraits even stronger.

Once you become comfortable with keeping subjects off centre and utilising the top, bottom, left and right of your frame rather than just the middle, you will see an immediate improvement in your pictures.

A word of caution about some of the technical issues you will encounter when you start moving your subject off centre.

1. Exposure. Most cameras bias the centre of the screen to give correct exposure. Once you shift the subject off centre you risk under or over exposure, due to the background or sky, unduly influencing the exposure reading. There are several cures. You can take a test shot, check whether it is too light or dark and modify your exposure accordingly. You can centre the subject, half press the shutter to get a reading, lock it with AE/AF lock, recompose and shoot. Another option is to change to spot metering and move the spot to the subject. Generally auto-focus is tied to this and you get both correct exposure and focus in one easy movement.

2. Focus. We’ve all done it, you have a lovely subject, artistically placed in the left or right of your screen and it is just outside the focus area. Press the shutter and you have a beautifully focused background with an out of focus subject. This is easily fixed by first placing the subject within the focusing area, half press the shutter and keeping the pressure, recompose before shooting. As I recommended with exposure, you can focus and use the AF/AE lock to maintain the focus point while you recompose. With the iPhone camera you can touch the point on the screen that you want to be correctly focused and exposed and a focus icon appears. This is handy for off centre and back-lit subjects. It is also available on a number of touch screen point and shoot cameras.
Lastly, try manual focus. You can use one touch auto-focus then change to manual. Otherwise simply disengage auto focus, compose, focus and shoot. This works well with close-ups, portraits and macro shots, where low contrast causes auto-focus systems to hunt backwards and forwards. This is annoying and slows shooting.

Moving Outside the Square.
Once you have mastered Rule of Thirds composition, and can do it without hesitation, it is time for further experimentation. Diagonal and spiral compositions can be exciting and dynamic. Try changing formats to long and narrow such as 16:9, or square i.e. 1:1. If it is intentional you can even go back to experimenting with centralised subjects, using colour or light to add dynamics.

Porsche photographed in wide format to emphasise sporty lines.

Porsche photographed in wide format to emphasise sporty lines.

It is worth finding pictures that you like in magazines or online, and analysing why you find them appealing. Divide the image into thirds and see whether the photographer has used this composition technique to command your attention. Try and reproduce compositions you like until you develop your personal style. It is only when you understand the rules that you are able to break them and compose yourself using your own aesthetic.

Bring Them Closer

The second most purchased lens by owners of DSLRs is a usually telephoto zoom. This can result from a desire to get closer images of kid’s sports, motor racing, portraits or nature. Unfortunately, they are an easy lens to use badly. The expensive ones feature a constant aperture, which means that as you zoom, the aperture and hence the exposure remains constant. This is essential for professionals and advanced amateurs with deep pockets and a specific need that can only be fulfilled by one of the lenses. In fact, the 70-200 mm zoom ƒ2.8 is a classic mainstay of the genre. Every major camera manufacturer offers several, as do the independent lens makers such as Sigma and Tamron et al. They work well in low light, most now feature image stabilisation and all are incredibly sharp. Their major disadvantages are price and bulk.

What of the weekend warrior, or hobbyist who still wants a telephoto, but won’t use it that much, or doesn’t have excessive funds to buy one with a fixed aperture? You’ll be delighted to hear that solutions abound. Most manufacturers offer cheaper alternatives that feature image stabilisation, but variable aperture. In practice, this means that as you zoom out, the aperture gets smaller, less light comes in and so the shutter speed slows down to cope. Typically these lenses are ƒ4.5 and become ƒ6.3 when zoomed, reducing the light coming in by half. In low light at the widest aperture and with a moving subject, zoom in and you get blurry pictures

An old rule of thumb states that, to ensure sharpness handheld, your minimum shutter speed should be the reciprocal of the focal length. In plain English, the slowest speed to get sharp pictures with a 200mm lens is 1/200 sec. a 300mm lens 1/300 sec etc. With a telephoto I always have a sturdy tripod on standby. It makes life easier and you get sharper pictures. In good light you can handhold to around 1/100 of a second with an image stabilised tele up to 300mm. After that you may get a few good shots, but don’t rely on it.

Manufacturers promise miracles with image stabilisation, but in the field you never get as much help from electronics as you need. That said, there are some gems on the market, that used within their parameters, give incredible results. The example I’ve used here was photographed with a 55-300 mm Nikon, through a window. This particular lens costs less than $300 and is a bargain.

Little Bird photographed through a widow. Nikon 55-300mm zoom

Little Bird photographed through a window. Nikon 55-300mm zoom

It is incredibly sharp, auto-focuses well and is image stablised. It has an equally excellent sibling at half the price, but less reach; the 55-200 mm and a more expensive older brother that covers full frame, the Nikon 70-300 mm zoom. Canon, Sigma and Tamron have similar offerings. I have used the Canon and the Sigma at an airshow, handheld to photograph flying aircraft and I was amazed by the sharpness and detail of the results.

I am an unashamed lens connoisseur, or snob depending on your viewpoint. I got that way through long experience, not Google and firmly believe, that in lenses you only get what you pay for. In the case of this group of low priced telephoto lenses, you get far more than you pay for. You just have to use them within limits and on a tripod when the light goes..

Kitchen Sink Still Life

Needing a diversion during a recent bout of illness, I decided to keep my eye and hand in by doing a simple still life, using everyday household items rather than complex studio lighting. It is quite a good back-to-basics exercise and, done correctly, can result in surprisingly good images.

I had a couple of vine ripened tomatoes on the kitchen sink and my Panasonic LX5. To this, I added soft window light, a sheet of A3 white copy paper, 2 water glasses and a sheet of aluminium foil. Because the tomatoes are highly reflective, an overcast day and a big window is optimum. If you have a window covered by a transparent white curtain, or blind, the sun doesn’t matter. A small portable table is ideal for the setup, because you can move it closer, or further away from the light source. Depending on the light level, and object size, a tripod is a valuable, but optional addition. If you are shooting objects requiring a macro lens, or macro setting and slow shutter speeds, then the tripod is a must.

On macro setting, you need to use small apertures which result in slow shutter speeds, hence the tripod. If you don’t have a tripod, you can always raise the ISO, or improvise. I have used glasses, bricks, mixing bowls or any stable object of the right height, as makeshift tripods.

Tomatoes shot by window light with Lumix LX5

Tomatoes shot by window light with Lumix LX5

With everything sorted, you’re ready to start. Position the object on the front edge of the paper and prop the back up on the glasses to give you a seamless white background.
At this stage, don’t worry about a camera, look carefully at the object. Where does the light fall? Where is the shadow? Where is the highlight? You can turn the table to give the object more front, side or back-light. Watch the object carefully while you’re turning it.

Once you have settled on a position and the lighting looks right, decide whether the shadows are going to be too dark. Your eyes compensate for a far greater range of tones than a camera, so dark tones will be far darker than they appear. Is there sufficient light on the background? If not, a piece of foil can be used to reflect light on the background.

If you really enjoy experimenting with these still life photographs, you can buy sheets of matte and dull silver cardboard at newsagents or art suppliers. They are useful because you can tear and fold them into custom reflectors and they can stand up. There are also sheets of white, black, silver and gold foam-core board which are the studio photographers must have for lots of lighting fixes.

Seed Pods shot with baclight and silver front fill reflector.

Seed Pods shot with a white blind as back-light and silver front fill reflector.

With everything in place, you’re ready to take a shot. Because you’re using a white background, you need to compensate and increase your exposure by 1 to 2 stops. If you forget or don’t know why, see my previous blog entitled Your Lightmeter Lies.

Once you master the white background, try colours or black. Try back-lighting with front fill reflectors. Try different coloured reflectors. Use different apertures for out of focus effects. The variations are endless.

Seed Pods shot with available light and reflector

Seed Pods shot with macro lens, available light and reflector

So there it is, a basic set-up, using inexpensive tools that can lead to quite sophisticated pictures of flowers, fruit, plants and objects. Best of all, it is absorbing, educational, addictive but most of all fun and creatively rewarding.

Point & Shoot – The Eveready iPhone Camera

I love the convenience and spontaneity of the iPhone 5 camera. It is generally in my pocket, or somewhere handy and reasonably easy to use. A quick tap on the camera app icon and you have a large clear viewfinder with 100% image area in a compact lightweight body. You have a choice of video, still, flash, panorama and HDR. Very versatile.

Numerous developers have tried to improve on the basic camera. They feature processing, anti-shake, SLR type displays with copious information and format variations. I have bought and tried many of them, but none beat the simplicity of the original. The standard app just does the job. it is like comparing fast food to a restaurant meal. Fast food is quick, filling and consistent, but a bit limited, whereas restaurant meals offer more variety, complexity and takes time and commitment. Both have their place.

Hello Leo. Don't be scared!iPhone 5 pic

Hello Leo. Don’t be scared!
iPhone 5 pic

On a recent family outing, I had both my DSLR and iPhone camera. The Nikon was fitted with the 35mm ƒ1.8 with ISO set to 640 and aperture at ƒ2.5 The lighting wasn’t great and I was trying to capture a very active nephew being introduced to a nervous cat. I picked up the iPhone and got some good shots. Not great, but family snaps and great memories. The cat made a hasty exit, the nephew calmed down and went to his mum. I put the phone down, picked up the DSLR and got some lovely shots. The predetermined settings were fine and the family were well pleased with the results, as was I. A bonus that I wasn’t aware of at the time, was that some family members grabbed the iPhone and shot some video and stills of me at work. As is the case with most professional photographers, I rarely appear in family photographs, because someone always hands me a camera with the words “i hope you don’t mind taking a few snaps.”

I'd like to pat you!iPhone 5 pic

I’d like to pat you!
iPhone 5 pic

I crop, sharpen and process all photographs in Lightroom 4 and apply camera and lens corrections to all photographs prior to distribution. I also use Photogene 2 to process pictures directly on the phone and they get distributed via Dropbox straight from the iPhone. It is an efficient, trouble free enjoyable process and unlike the convoluted process I had to endure when using film, all aspects of family life can be effortlessly documented and shared. They are priceless memories that are a joy to look back on.

The iPhone camera is not perfect. As with any camera, it should be used within its parameters. It gets noisy in very low light and because it’s light, it is subject to shake, so must be held carefully. As the lens is in the top right hand corner, you must be careful not to get fingers in the way. The results are dependent on everything going right, but with practice and processing, you can get results that are exceptional. With care, A3+ prints are not out of the question. It isn’t an SLR, but it is a worthy contender for most convenient and versatile point and shoot.

The Big Picture

I love the spontaneity of the iPhone camera. It has reasonable resolution, good colour balance, and can send photos around the globe, but best of all, it’s with me most of the time. The old maxim is, that the best camera, is the one you have with you when a picture opportunity arises. The iPhone 4s or 5 fills that need perfectly. (Obviously, there are numerous Smartphone cameras for Android etc. but I use and have the most experience on an iPhone, but these notes should apply equally to other camera phones).

The iPhone is compact, under most conditions the quality reasonable, intuitive and simple to use. Or is it? In the right hands and with lots of practice, the iPhone has earned a place in professional photography. There are now iPhone photo contests and exhibitions held regularly. iPhone pictures have been accepted for resale by a major online digital picture company and more will follow. So it has come of age. Its resolution is sufficient for A4 or larger sized prints and more than enough for online viewing. However, I still see lots of bad iPhone pictures. Motion blurred, out of focus, dark. Does that mean it is too simple?

I don’t think so, in fact many of the same problems that I see with iPhones, I see with DSLRs, that feature variable metering, twice as much resolution, zoom lenses and adjustable everything. The problem is with the photographer, not the camera.

What’s Going Wrong?
it’s the same old story, the camera is deceptively simple to use and therefore easy to use badly.

The First Problem?
Image too small. Solution: move closer. Read my article Two Steps Forward, but the major thing is that the camera doesn’t have a zoom lens, so move forward and fill the frame. When you think you’re too close, move in closer. You can see exactly the same picture area that you are shooting, and it’s live, so use it to advantage.

Blurred Image.
There are a couple of possibilities. You, or the subject moved, when there wasn’t enough light. The camera takes a short time to focus and in low light or low contrast, it is a bit slow to lock on to the subject. You can help it by moving closer and allowing auto-focus to lock on, or tap the screen on the portion of the subject you want to be sharp. The camera focuses and as an added bonus takes a light reading from the subject. This is good with subjects lit from behind, which generally come out in silhouette without a bit of help. There is also a flash you can activate, but it darkens the background and the result isn’t as nice as available light. You should also concentrate on holding the camera still. iPhones are light and the grip is a little clumsy, so practice holding it steady while you touch the shutter.

Boring Image
This is the easiest problem to fix. Move around your subject. Try different angles, low down, high up. Move closer, move away. You can see exactly what you are going to get so if it looks interesting on the screen, it probably is.
I am still amazed by the number of people who are surprised by their results. You can see the result, full size, before you shoot the picture. Use this to your advantage.

The Big Picture
One of the best things in the new iPhone IOS, is the panorama function. I love it. It is at the bottom of the camera options menu. Select it and hold the camera vertically. An arrow appears within some lines. You pick the extreme left of your proposed panorama, and press the shutter. Start moving the camera to the right, keeping the arrow tracking evenly within the lines. The camera warns you if you are going too fast. Keep the camera moving until you reach the point you want the panorama to end and touch the shutter again. Select ‘Done’ and your panorama is saved and ready to view. For best results, try and ensure the light is even. Very dark, or light spots tend to cause parts of the image to be difficult to see. If there are people in the shot who are moving, you get some odd results. People have limbs missing, or strange heads that nature didn’t originally supply.

You can get wonderful group shots of family and friends if you make sure everyone is still and work as quickly as the panorama mode allows. If you move too fast, the camera warns you to slow down. With a bit of practice, you will find yourself getting some amazing panoramas.

Camera Apps
There are a range of Apps that supposedly make iPhone photography better. Camera +, 645 Pro, Camera Genius, to name a few. They all have virtues, but to be honest, for normal shooting, the standard camera is fine. It is quick to activate, convenient and easy to use. Then there’s Instagram. Why people who can’t take a sharp, properly exposed, well composed photo, think that by filtering it and distorting the colour, it is somehow transformed and turned into a great photo, worth sharing with friends. I confess that I use Snapseed occasionally, but only because I have a photo that I feel warrants specific types of filtration.

Even Better Pictures
My suggestion is, that after you practice taking well exposed, well composed, interesting shots, you process them. There are some fantastic processing Apps, which unlike the filtration Apps, actually improve your pictures, and make up for shortcomings in your photography. My favourite is Photogene. It is brilliant. It can correct exposure, crop, sharpen, fill shadows, fix highlights, change colour balance, improve contrast, generate montages and add captions. It can then post them to social media, the web, or email and save to your library. For those who demand instantaneous, effortless improvements, there are a range of preset corrections built in.
If you must fiddle, it can even change your image, not necessarily for the better, with a range of filters. As mentioned previously, Snapseed is also brilliant, as is Photoshop for iOS.

There is no shortage of image enhancing, or altering Apps, you just have to be willing to use them.

Improving Your Image
My contention is, that you should start with a worthwhile image, by doing everything you can to capture it without faults. Then processing is used for enhancement, not rescue.

The iPhone or Smart Phone cameras in general, are a great way to get spontaneous interesting pictures that give you timeless memories and creative satisfaction, with minimal effort. Try one, you’ll love it.

Primed for Action

The normal purchase of an entry or mid-level DSLR is generally accompanied by kit lenses. This can be either an 18-55 mm and/or a 55-200mm zoom. These lenses are remarkable and cheap for what they are. Generally image stabilised, and reasonably sharp. However, my contention is that the zoom lens contributes substantially to the generally poor standard of most new DSLR photographer‘s pictures.
Usually they stand in one spot, zoom in and snap. The problem with inexpensive kit lenses is that they feature variable apertures. This means, as you zoom, the aperture decreases and the exposure increases. This leaves the unaware photographer with a dilemma. For example, if prior to zooming, the shutter speed was borderline for hand holding, once zoomed, the photographer faces a reduction in shutter speed to a half or quarter of what was originally marginal anyway. This leads to blurred pictures. The other issue is that the small maximum aperture of ƒ3.5 – ƒ4.5 that reduces to ƒ6.3, doesn’t allow the softly blurred background, so attractive in portraits.

“What about image stabilisation,” I heard you ask? The promises made by manufacturers of three and four stop image stabilisers are optimistic at best. In my experience, less than half the shots taken that rely on long zoom, low speeds and small apertures, are satisfactorily sharp and contain no blur. An answer is increase the ISO, or grab the tripod.

I have another recommendation. Buy yourself a large aperture, prime (single focal length) lens. Most manufacturers offer bargain priced 28mm, 35mm, 50mm or 85mm ƒ1.8 primes. These range in price from $180 – $500. They are exceptionally sharp, can be used in low light and I believe, will improve your photography immeasurably.

As professor Julius Sumner Miller so aptly uttered “Why is this so?”
Firstly, because there is no zoom, you have to move in or out to fill the frame. This makes you study your subject, and leads to better angles and composition. Next, the large aperture enables you to shoot hand-held, in low light, at higher speeds. Result, no blur.

The larger apertures, allow you to blur the background and isolate your subject. This is one of the marks of a good photographer; a sharp subject coming crisply out of a smooth background. This is particularly attractive in portraits.

BlossomPrime lenses are generally sharper than zooms, because they don’t have complex the mechanisms that are required to change focal lengths, or the extra glass that zooms need.

Macro lenses are a particularly versatile type of prime lens. Macros allow close focusing of small subjects. This opens up the magical world of closeups; flowers, food, insects, products, portraits and nature. They are generally sharper than normal primes, with slightly smaller apertures, but can be used for general photography as well.

Recently, I had the privilege of purchasing and testing a Samyang 14mm wide-angle lens, on behalf of a client. He uses a full frame Canon and wanted an ultra wide-angle lens for occasional use. From test reports, the Samyang seemed to fit the brief. It was less than a quarter of the price of an equivalent Canon lens, but had no auto-focus, or auto aperture.
I thought that this may have presented problems, but instead, it fitted the camera perfectly and after a few moments testing, I developed a simple workflow and got spectacular results. This lens is not for everyone, but it is an exceptionally good prime lens and would buy one myself.

Bottom line. If you want to improve your photography, buy a prime. 50mm ƒ1.8 is a great choice. On a smaller frame DSLR, it becomes a 75mm – 85mm lens which is a great focal length for available light portraiture. Your family will thank you for the flattering memories.

The Update Dilemma

With the New Year upon us and Photokina‘s new offerings being launched onto the market, photographers are getting the urge to upgrade their cameras. This post applies to DSLRs. If your camera has served you well for the last few years and you feel you want to upgrade to the latest offering, here are the factors you should consider before spending any money.

Overall Budget
The camera body is a large, but still only a portion of the total cost of upgrading. New cameras usually involve an increase in resolution, which in turn requires several decisions.

Are your lenses adequate?
A lens that was matched perfectly to a 10 megapixel body, may show faults such as chromatic aberration, focus issues and poor sharpness when mated to a camera with twice the resolution. A change from a reduced frame camera to a full frame one will probably render all of your lenses redundant and will require the purchase of a totally new outfit, involving more expensive, larger and heavier lenses. Depending on your needs, this can involve an investment of up to 3 or 4 times the cost of the camera body.

Card, Computer and Software upgrades
Increased camera resolution requires larger capacity cards with increased speeds, to allow reasonable download times. Is your computer and software up to date and up to the task? Anyone using an older model computer with software that worked well with the previous camera, may find that they suddenly need major upgrades to video cards, hard drives, screens and software. ACR, Lightroom, Photoshop, Aperture, Capture One, etc. all rely on the latest versions to allow downloading images from new cameras. You will find that with increased resolution, there is a proportionate increase in download times. There is also a change from USB 2 to USB 3 which requires an investment in card readers and cables.

Accessories
That camera bag that fitted the old camera perfectly, may require an upgrade for the new camera, along with flash, batteries, filters etc. Is your old tripod and head rigid enough to take advantage of the increased resolution and weight of the new camera? If not, you need to buy a new one.

In Summary
As you can see, the decision to upgrade a camera and/or change formats, can be far more complex and expensive than it first appears. The purchase of the camera can end up being the cheapest component. My advice is, to assess your needs and budget realistically. Be aware of the total cost of the outfit, not just the camera body. Make the wrong decision and miss match your lenses and accessories and you may as well have kept the old camera.

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