Monday, 30 November 2009

10 Tips For Shooting Fireworks

1. Check that you have the right equipment for the job before leaving home (preferably the night before). A tripod and cable release are essential, but remember to take spare batteries and a hat and gloves if the weather is cold. A torch (or two) are another must have.

2. Arrive early and find a good position that is not too close or your camera will be pointing upward (not the best look and uncomfortable when shooting). It helps if you are there before it gets dark.

3. Make sure that the horizon is level. This is not as easy as it sounds and is another reason to arrive before the sun goes down.

4. Set-up your camera before leaving home as it will save you fumbling in the dark and it's hard to see the top of your camera when it's on top of a fully extended tripod.

5. Set your ISO to a low setting to get the least amount of noise. 100 or 200 is ideal.

6. Set the focus to manual. As the fireworks are normally coming from a fixed location and your camera is on a tripod, you can zoom in, focus, then recompose and you're good to go. Check your focus every now and then just to make sure it hasn't moved.

7. Aperture is best set to f8 or f16 which will get a wide depth of field and allow for a slow shutter speed.

8. Shutter speed needs to be low to capture the full effect and movement of the fireworks as they explode and fan out. You will need to play around for the best results, but somewhere between 4 and 10 seconds should get good results. Remember to use your cable release to stop camera shake!

9. A wide zoom lens is best. Around a 17-55mm on a crop sensor and a 24-70mm on a full frame sensor will give you a good range, but this will depend on your distance from the event.

10. You shouldn't  need much post processing, probably Levels to add black, beef up the colors a bit and a bit of sharpening (Clarity in Lightroom). You will probably need to do a bit of cropping, because you need to shoot at a wider focal length to catch some unexpectedly high fireworks.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Drobo :: The Ultimate Storage System

I have a 300GB and a 1TB drive inside my computer and a stand alone 1TB sitting on my desk. To most people this would be more hard drive space than they would ever need. But to a photographer it's just enough to get by for a while until we're forced to shell out for another drive. Then there's the hassle of deciding what to copy on to each drive...

The perfect solution is the Drobo by Data Robbotics. Drobo is a single unit containing up to four hard drives, but the computer sees it as one single drive. The most amazing thing is that if a drive fails or even if you simply pull one out, the Drobo doesn't skip a beat, it just heals itself and use's it's own back-ups to rebuild a totally safe place for your digital files to live. You can mix and match the size and make of each drive and you don't have to use expensive drives either. Drobo sells for around £340 / $398 on Amazon for the four drive version (drives not included). There is also an eight drive version.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

The Best Way To Improve Your Photography

The best way to improve your photography is by looking at other peoples photos. It's that simple! We live in a great time (photographically). The internet has opened up the ability to learn just about anything you want to know about almost any subject. Photographers probably benefit the most from the net, because we can learn so much just from looking at a single image.

From composition to lighting to technique and everything in between, you can really learn a lot from just looking. Try to dissect the photo and discover what makes it interesting to you. Is it the subject matter? Is it the colors? Is it the amount of contrast in a black and white? Is the subject cropped in tight or small in the frame to give a sense of space.

There's an endless amount of great photos on the web. Try to set aside some time each day to just look at lots of photos. Remember to do the other great thing to improve your photography too...take lots of photos!

Monday, 23 November 2009

Review:: The Spyder3 Express

The Spyder3 Express arrived sooner than expected and I got two of my monitors calibrated yesterday. The box contained the software CD, a quick-start guide, warranty card, cleaning cloth, Colorimeter and suction cup.

I was expecting a complicated list of menu's, questions and the need to search inside my computers Control Panel to adjust lots of setting, but I was delighted and amazed just how simple and straightforward it was. You basically install the software, plug the Colorimeter into a spare USB port, start the software program and confirm which type of monitor you are using (CRT or LCD). As long as your monitor has been switched on for 30 minutes or more, you can hang the Colorimeter over the front of your monitor, adjust the position of the weight on the USB cable so that it hangs over the back of your monitor. The software runs through a collection of colored and grey boxes and the Colorimeter checks and makes adjustments on them.

At the end of the process you are instructed to remove the Colorimeter from the monitor and are then shown a collection of photo's that you can zoom in and out of and switch back and forth between your old profile and the the new Spyder3 profile. My monitors were calibrated using Adobe Gamma, but the difference between the two color profiles was quite substantial. Although I only found the suction cup in the box after I had calibrated my monitor, I personally would only use it on a CTR screen. I recommend just keeping your finger pressed very lightly on the Colorimeter of use a large rubber band to keep it against the screen.

I was pleasantly surprised how easy the process was to calibrate my monitor using the Spyder3 Express. It's a basic calibration, but if you need something a bit more in-depth, you could shell out the extra and get the Spyder3 Elite, Pro or Studio. The Spyder3 Express cost £77 or $88 from amazon.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Lens Review:: Sigma 10mm F2.8 EX DC Fisheye

I've had the Sigma 10mm F2.8 EX DC Fisheye lens in my kit for a while now and although you can't use it all the time, it's a great little lens in a lot of situations. From architecture to portraits (see my Rules Are Made To Be Broken blog post) and everything in-between. With a fast wide aperture of F2.8, it's a great lens for low light situations.

The 10mm Fisheye is designed for APS-C size sensor cameras. The Nikon version produces a diagonal angle of view of 180o (154o on Sigma and 167o on Canon) and a minimum focus distance of 13.5cm/5.3 inches. The lens is predictably soft at the edges between 2.8 and 3.5, but at F4 and beyond it performs much better than expected. The centre of the lens is pin sharp and the bokeh when shooting wide open is fantastic.
You can pick one of these lens's up on Ebay secondhand for around £300, and it really is worth it.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Before You Discard That Photo

Before you dismiss or even delete a photo that just doesn't cut it, try playing around with a few things in Lightroom, Aperture or Photoshop. There are a few things that transform a photo from mundane to Magnificent, but the quickest and most reliable two ways are cropping and converting to black & white.

The photo bellow was taken on an overcast day with a sky that was too bright to be dramatic and light that was just flat and uninteresting. It did nothing for me when I first processed the bunch of raw files that it was part of. But a few weeks later, I was flicking through my Lightroom catalogue looking for something to play around with and this one looked as though it had a lot of scope to be transformed. A quick crop, convert to black and white,  push up the blacks and hey presto! Black & White is without doubt the best way to transform a color photo that looks bland.

Monday, 16 November 2009

The Spyder3 Express

Monitor calibration is a very important task, but it's one that a lot of people either don't get round to or don't think they need. If you have ever printed a photograph and had the colors look different from the screen to the print, then your calibration is off.

The Spyder3 Express is available from Amazon (pre-order in the UK) and retails for £77/$85. There's no excuse to not calibrate when the Spyder3 Express is so inexpensive. If you have more than one monitor, you need to have one of these even more. If like me, you sometimes have to start your edits on a laptop and finish them on your desktop computer, calibration will stop all those annoying readjustments that you need to make after you transfer your images. I'll have a full review on the Spyder3 Express in a week or two when I have a test model.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Shooting In Cold Conditions

It's getting really cold in this part of the world, so I thought I'd share a few tips on shooting in winter.

I keep a pair of black fleece gloves in my camera bag about four months of the year. They're inexpensive, warm and thin enough not to restrict the use of any camera controls.

Batteries drain fast in cold weather, so keep them in a pocket as close to your body as possible until it's time to shoot. Rotate batteries between your camera and pocket frequently to get the most out of them.

If you're shooting in cold weather and you're going to take a break for lunch, leave your camera in the cold if possible. Going from cold to warm will cause your lens, viewfinder and even sensor to mist up and will prevent you from using your gear. Locking it in the back of your car is best, but make sure you keep a watchful eye on it

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

D-Town TV

Although D Town TV has now come to an end, I highly recommend any Nikon user, new or old, should watch all twenty-four episodes.

Each week, Scott Kelby and Matt Kloskowski ran through tips and tricks to get the most out of your Nikon gear. There were a few episodes dedicated to lens's and flash and a few guest spots from Joe McNally and Moose Peterson.

So whether you're a beginner or a pro, there's something in D-Town for you. You can download all twenty-four episodes from iTunes for free or see them at the D-Town TV website .

Monday, 9 November 2009

Lastolite Tri-Flip 8:1 Kit

The Lastolite Tri-Flip 8:1 Kit is such a versatile piece of gear that you really shouldn't be without one. The kit consists of a Tri-Grip Diffuser and two Tri-Flip sleeves which are reversible. So although you don't get eight sleeves like shown in the Lastolite photo above, you do get eight sides, seven reflective surfaces and one subtractive (black) surface.

The Diffuser is an absolute must when you're shooting outdoors in bright sunlight and need to get rid of squinting eyes and harsh contrasts. The reflector sleeves are the icing on the cake and the variety in the different temperatures of reflected light is everything you will ever need. From soft silver to gold and everything in-between - if you only buy one reflector, this is the one you should have in your kit.

I have a lot of Lastolite gear, from the small XpoBalance and softbox's, to the fantastic Hilite illuminated background. There is something in the Lastolite product range to suit every lighting situation. My next purchase will be the 100cm Umbrella Kit (maybe I'll do a review here in the near future).

Friday, 6 November 2009

Leave Room To Let Your Subject Breath

Sometimes you need to get in really close to your subject and fill the frame with detail. But don't forget to leave space when it's needed. One of the most important times to remember this is when you're taking a portrait and your subject is looking to the side. Always leave nose room. You can crop behind the head as tight as you like, but make sure that your subject has some space in front of their face.

Take the above photo as another example. A tight shot would look good too, but this photo gives a great sense of how small and agile the aircraft is in the huge vast sky. So whatever your subject matter, the next time you're shooting something, why not zoom out or walk back and give your subject some space.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Help Portrait

Help Portrait is a movement of photographers who are using their time, equipment and expertise to give back to those less fortunate. The date is 12th December 2009 and is open to all photographers, amateur or pro. It's about doing something for other people. It will cost you time and a little bit of money for prints, but you'll feel good about yourself and make someone else feel good about themselves. The movement was started by photographer Jeremy Cowart in the US, but has now gone global.

Watch the video on Scott Kelby's blog here for more info or go to the Help Portrait website.