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Category Archives: Tech

Canon’s 11-24mm zoom is an incredible lens

wide sunsetToday I got to play with Canon’s newest wide angle marvel, the EF 11-24mm f/4L USM Lens. I’m hosting my Meetup groups in Havre de Grace, MD, and we photographed the bald eagles at Conowingo dam this morning. Canon pro rep Tony Kurdzuk brought a bunch of long lenses to use for the eagles but I also asked him to bring me an 11-24mm so I could give it a try.

Well, it is incredible.

It is rectilinear lens, which means you don’t get the crazy distortion you normally get with a lens this wide. In fact, this is the only lens made by anyone that goes to 11mm for a full-frame camera. I have a 15mm fish-eye, but the world becomes warped when I use it, so I rarely do. This lens just doesn’t do that. Like Tony said, you can never have a too wide lens, but this one is close.

The first thing I tried was aiming it directly at the sun during sunset. That is one way to quickly find any flaws in the glass. Most lenses flare like crazy when you aim it at the sun but there is only a slight flare, and it is a nice flare.

Pier under cloudsThen I wanted to see what happened at f/4, which is the constant largest aperture. Nothing but cool. And sharp.

Log in the bayLast I got really close to a log in the water with a long exposure. The color version of this shot is nice but I like the Black & White. There is a silly amount of depth of field here, I’m inches from the log.

The final verdict: I’m sold. I’ll be ordering mine soon.

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Tech tip: Tripod buying guide – How to select the tripod that is right for you

Tripod buying guide – selecting the right tripod for you

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Most out-of-focus pictures are due to camera movement, it isn’t because you focused in the wrong place or your subject moved. It is because your camera moved. It doesn’t take much, especially as your use longer telephoto lenses. That is why I shoot over 90% of my photos with my camera on a tripod. I’m a believer that you can’t have a tripod that is too good. A solid tripod is a must in my photography world, a flimsy tripod is a waste of money. I’ve heard people say that any tripod is better than none and I couldn’t disagree more. A flimsy tripod gives you a false sense that you are getting sharp pictures but then you get back to your computer and you see your photos are a little fuzzy. If you’re not using a tripod, hopefully you know the camera could be shaky and you do some things to keep the camera as steady as you can, use image stabilization with your lens and then not be surprised later.

So make sure you have a solid tripod, but first there are some things you need to consider before making a considerable investment.

  • Is the tripod strong enough for your camera and lens?
  • How tall are you?
  • How small does the tripod get?
  • How much does it weigh?
  • Do you shoot much at ground level?
  • Do you want twist or flip leg locks?

Continue reading »

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Photo Tip: Light painting during the day

VisitorI was out in my favorite location in Pomfret, VT, looking for foliage photos and looking at a small set of birch trees. A single fallen yellow maple leaf had landed on the trees and provided a nice splash of color against the white bark.

Without the flashlight

Without the flashlight

But the light was pretty bad. I was deep in the woods and there wasn’t any light getting down to the leaf.

So I pulled out my flashlight and since I use my tripod for most of my photos I was able to do a long exposure which let me light the scene with my flashlight. Rather than illuminate it from the front with a flat light, I moved the flashlight to the side to give it nice modeling and texture on the tree. I like sidelight and backlight and use it whenever I can, so when I can control the light, that is what I aim for.

Usually most people think of doing light painting at night, but there are many times when kicking in some extra light can make a big difference in an image. It is good to have a strong flashlight handy.

Also posted in Details, Photo adventure, Photo tip, Scenic Tagged , , |

Simplifying neutral density filters

When you sunlight shining and the water is milky looking, then you can be pretty sure that a neutral density filter was used.

When you see sunlight shining and the water is milky looking, then you can be pretty sure that a neutral density filter was used.

Let’s start with when you need a neutral density filter. A normal ND filter cuts down the amount of light going through the lens. You want to do that when the light is too bright to get a slow shutter speed you want, like when you want moving water to look milky. Or when you want to use a large aperture, like f/2.8 on a sunny day to limit your depth of field. People shooting video frequently use an ND filter so they can shoot at 1/30th shutter speed to get normal looking video.

There are a couple of different ways to accomplish neutral density. One is to use a variable neutral density filter, the other is to use a filter that has a fixed amount of density. The variable is much more expensive and gives you more precise control. The fixed is less expensive but you may want two or three to meet all your needs.

If I want moving water to look milky, I usually like to have a shutter speed of two seconds or longer. So if I am shooting 100 ISO and it is sunny, my exposure will be f/11 at 1/125 sec. So I need eight stops of ND to get down to the two second exposure I want, which is why the only ND I carry is 8X.

OK, I kinda lied. I made my own variable ND filter by using two polarizing filters and reversing one in its frame. I can then stack the two on my lens and vary the amount of light coming through, which is how an official variable ND filter works. But I don’t find that I need to do that very often, my 8X ND covers what I usually want to do.

And there are graduated ND filters where part of the filter is ND and part is clear. These are great when the sun is below the horizon and the foreground is dark and the sky is bright. You can cut down the light in the sky but not the foreground. I have to admit that I don’t use my graduated ND filters much any more since Lightroom does such a great job creating the same effect. But I’d say that it is better to do it with filters than software if you are real fussy. They also make slotted ND filters that cut down the light in the middle, like after sunset when the horizon is bright but the sky and foreground are dark. And there are tinted ND filters, but they are gimmicks to me. If you want your scene to be blue or warm, just do it in the computer.

My suggestion is to start with a 8-10 stop ND. You’ll want to have it available for each of your lenses, you never know if you are going to want it with wide angle or telephoto. So either buy one for each lens or buy one for the largest filter size you have and get step-down rings that let you put the larger filter on the smaller lens.

 

Also posted in equipment, Photo tip

Photo Tip: Fancy Fill Flash

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Many photographers use fill flash outdoors when faces are in the shadow. The flash built into the camera can do a good job punching a little light into an area that is too dark. I went out to photograph a field of sunflowers and the sky was gray, so I made the “fill flash” the main light source and underexposed the rest of the photo by one stop. The flash was off the camera bouncing into a small umbrella to create a softer light, but it would still work with an on-camera flash.

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Photo Tip: Get the right exposure in snow

Five Trees pano

Since we still have the snowiest months coming, here is a vital tip when taking pictures in the snow. You have to give your photos more exposure than your meter is telling you, especially when the sun is out. A camera’s light meter reads the overall light in a scene and then calculates the exposure to average tonal value of 18% gray. So if the scene is mostly white, you’re camera will make the snow gray, not what we want. We need to increase the exposure up to two full stops more light to turn that gray snow back to the white that it should be. The same thing happens on bright, sunny beaches in the summer. And the opposite happens when most of the scene is dark, then we need to underexpose from the meter reading. So don’t forget that you are smarter than your camera and be sure to make the proper adjustments.

 

Also posted in Photo tip

Photo Tip: Exposing at night

middleBridgeNightOne the keys to photos at night is to add light where needed. Many times we just shoot what is there but adding some light of your own can make a big difference. It doesn’t require tons of equipment, just imagination and experimentation. This show of a covered bridge was lit with a flashlight. I did a 30 second exposure and walked around shining my little flashlight on the end of the bridge and the fence. It took several attempts to get it right but checked the each exposure on of the back of my camera and then made adjustments.

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Apps I use for my photography

During my Vermont Fall Foliage Photography Workshop, I was talking about some the apps I use on my iPhone that help me with my photography. For me, knowing where and when the sun is going to rise or set is invaluable. I use a program on the computer and iPhone app The Photographer’s Ephemeris to help me (http://photoephemeris.com/). It shows you where and how the light will fall on scenes, when the sun or moon will appear over a hill, shows shadow lengths to scale on the map and doesn’t require a network connection when you are in the field and want the sun/moon position or rise/set times.

When feeling like I need exact depth of field calculations, I use DOFMaster  (http://www.dofmaster.com/). On the computer or the mobile app, you put in your camera, f/stop, lens and subject distance and it will calculate the exact amount of depth of field. If you change any settings, it will quickly show you the DOF change. It is a bit geeky, but powerful. Continue reading »

Also posted in Classes & Workshops Tagged , |

Trying not to be an iPhone hater

pinnacle_panorama620I took the Vermont Fall Foliage Workshop participants to the top of a private property that has a great view from “The Pinnacle.” It is always hard for me to make good photos of a vast overlook, so I thought I’d try something different. I pulled out my iPhone and used the auto panorama feature of the camera. I can’t decide if I should be happy that my phone takes pictures that I can’t with my expensive camera or I should be happy that it can easily be done. I do like the photo though.

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