Photo Notes

August 27, 2012

Making the Camera Personal

Filed under: Indianapolis,Photographic Equipment — John Siskin @ 2:33 pm

I hope you’ll check out my books: Photographing Architecture and Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting. I hope you’ll get copies if you haven’t already. Of course you know that one reason for this blog is to sell the book and get you to consider one of my classes at BetterPhoto.com: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting, Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio, Getting Started in Commercial Photography If you’re in the Indianapolis area there are other opportunities as well. I’ll be teaching a class in commercial photography next spring at Ivy Tech.

According to the Word Press program I use to post this blog this is blog number 100! I don’t know if that proves anything other than I can write lengthy note to myself without knowing if anyone reads this thing. So if you look at this blog please send an e-mail or something.

I went to Camp Chesterfield here in Indiana yesterday. The camp is a Spiritualist center that began in the nineteenth century, and an interesting place to visit. All images were made with the new Nikon D800.

I’ve been writing about my Nikon D800 for the last couple of blogs, but today I want to discuss making a camera your camera. Anytime you get a new piece of equipment you’ll need to learn about how it works, but it is also important to customize the camera to your way of working. I think most of this is quite simple: really just choosing the options you’ll use. For instance when I’m shooting for clients, I usually have the camera set to manual exposure. I evaluate the exposures using the laptop and the LCD which is why I spent time setting up Eye-Fi option I already wrote about. I also set up a couple of custom white balance settings for my strobes. These are things that make the camera work better for me. I also put a thin strap on the camera. I like straps that are about half an inch wide because, while I almost never put the camera around my neck, I do wrap the strap around my hand. When I am hand holding the camera I keep the camera in my right hand. The strap is wrapped three times around my hand, so I can let go of the camera without dropping the camera. I learned this from Nikon School in 1978 and I still like it. I can get the camera to my eye and shoot very quickly. By the way my left hand cradles the lens and braces against my body. This makes it easier to shoot hand held. When I am shooting for my self I’ll generally shoot with aperture priority, so, of course I will be able to find the M and A setting pretty quickly.

There are things I generally don’t use on any camera. My last camera had a microphone for taking notes about your pictures. I never used this on purpose, but I did turn it on by mistake a couple of times. I couldn’t tell you how to actually make it work. I don’t expect I’ll use the in camera editing features of the Nikon D800, so I may never really know how they work. It’s important to remember it’s your camera; it should work as an extension of your vision. If you need to look at the instruction book before every shot you should probably practice with the settings you use most often. If you’re shooting with a DSLR and you keep all the settings on auto all the time you’ve limited your control over the camera and your ability to express your own vision.

I think I’ve made modifications on every camera I’ve ever had. Sometimes it’s just the settings, like turning on the lines in the viewfinder. On my Speed Graphic I added extra infinity stops, added a filter to the range finder and changed the lens. For my Mamiya C330 camera I got prism finders, brackets, and built a custom Polaroid camera. I really loved the speed finder on my Nikon F, but it was really built for a Nikon F2. I think that it is important to examine all of the accessories that are available for your camera. While many of them might not help you with your shooting, they may inspire you with new ideas of how to shoot.

August 20, 2012

Low Light Shooting With the Nikon D800

Filed under: Basic Photo Technique,Indianapolis — John Siskin @ 9:10 am

I hope you’ll check out my books: Photographing Architecture and Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting. I hope you’ll get copies if you haven’t already. Of course you know that one reason for this blog is to sell the book and get you to consider one of my classes at BetterPhoto.com: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting, Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio, Getting Started in Commercial Photography If you’re in the Indianapolis area there are other opportunities as well. I’ll be giving a Photomicrography presentation on August 23 at Black Dog Books in Zionsville. Call 317.733.1747 to reserve a space. I’ll be teaching a class in commercial photography next spring at Ivy Tech.

One of the biggest changes, for me, in working with the Nikon D800 is that the camera works in low light. My previous camera couldn’t make a good file above ISO 160 (yes 160, not 1600) and had trouble with exposures longer than about 1 second. The D800 will make a very usable file at ISO 6400, which is 6 stops brighter than my other camera. It will also make a good shot at an exposure of 30 seconds.

I always tell my students to test and practice, which is exactly what I’ve done with the D800. I made a test of film speed by shooting a five-dollar bill with different ISO settings. Money has a lot of finely printed detail, so I like to use it to look at resolution and noise. My evaluation of the test was that the camera worked exceptionally well to ISO 800, and had little noise at even higher ISO settings. I also discovered that long exposures were excellent, but take the camera considerably longer to process. Please note, these are my evaluations for the way I shoot, you should make your own tests and evaluations rather than accept my results. Besides testing is good practice.

I went back to the Indiana State Fair at night for some testing and practice in low light. I really haven’t done this kind of shooting in a long time, and I had forgotten how much fun it can be. As you may have figured out all the shots in this blog entry are from the night shoot at the fair. I did all my shooting at ISO 1600. I was very interested in allowing some motion blur into my shots. I shot everything in RAW. I was generally pleased by the auto-exposure and auto-color choices the camera made, but there were exceptions. The camera occasionally wanted to make things brighter, and often a little greener, than they felt at the site. It was easy to correct this when I converted from RAW to JPG, but I wouldn’t want to do this kind of shooting without making RAW files.

I should probably do some more night shooting soon. First because it’s fun, but also because I could use a little more practice.

August 14, 2012

New Camera!

I hope you’ll check out my books: Photographing Architecture and Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting. I hope you’ll get copies if you haven’t already. Of course you know that one reason for this blog is to sell the book and get you to consider one of my classes at BetterPhoto.com: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio Getting Started in Commercial Photography If you’re in the Indianapolis area there are other opportunities as well. I’ll be giving a Photomicrography presentation on August 23 at Black Dog Books in Zionsville. Call 317.733.1747 to reserve a space. I’ll be teaching a class in commercial photography next spring at Ivy Tech.

I’ve been spending time learning to work with my new camera, a Nikon D800. Since I haven’t had a new digital camera in about 8 years there are a few things to catch up on. My previous camera was a full frame camera that used Nikon lenses, so I can use the same glass, but I needed to make several up grades to work with the 36 megapixel images. I’ve had to get larger CF cards and a faster card reader, as well as a portable hard drive for location work.

One of the upgrades I am most excited about is the Eye-Fi card. This is an SD card that transfers the image files wirelessly to the computer. I have long been a proponent of setting up your lighting while looking at the image on a laptop. On my last camera the only way to do this was with a cable that ran between the camera and the computer. Most wireless systems are very expensive: Nikon makes a Wireless File Transmitter, but it costs about $740. The Eye-Fi card is about $80, but there are a lot of considerations about using it. First it is only appropriate for small to medium sized files. This would mean that I really couldn’t use it, but the D800 has two card slots, one for a CF card and another for an SD card. So you can set up the camera to put the RAW file on the CF card and put a smaller jpg file on to the Eye-Fi SD card. There are some definite challenges to setting up the network, but I got everything to work. One thing I am still trying to find is a program that will display the most recent image.

One of the keys to getting comfortable with a new camera is to play with it. I spent several days in my office playing with micro lenses (check out the earlier blog entries for info on specialized micro lenses. Look at the Micro Photography Category). I made a lot of bad images, and few that are passable. The key is that I leaned a lot about how the camera sees. I also did tests on resolution, long exposure and high ISO settings. It is important to look at the files in detail.

It is also very important to be willing to make mistakes. So I need to play with the buttons and the settings. I don’t need to memorize every function of the camera, what I need is to make choices about every function of the camera. For instance I don’t think I’ll use the photo editing functions of the camera, but I will use the custom white balance settings.

Yesterday I went to the Indiana State Fair, which was a great place to play with the camera. I made a lot of shots, which helps me to test my workflow. I got to play with long exposures, which didn’t work very well with the last camera. I also experimented with shots at high ISO. One of the biggest problems with the old camera was that the maximum usable ISO was 160. I can now shoot at ISO 6400, which is really remarkable. The shots I’m attaching are from the fair.

I have to say I am very impressed with the camera. The files are remarkably crisp and saturated. The camera is very quick, by my standards. I particularly like how quickly the camera turns on. I think the camera might be a little lighter than my last camera. Certainly the camera is a little smaller, but the LCD is a lot larger. I’ve done a few experiments with my strobe and everything works well there. I’m not done playing yet, but I am ready to use the camera on a commercial job.

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