Category Archives: Equipment

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Snowflakes – a source of mystery and wonder

Snowflakes are intricate and beautiful.

• Snowflake crystal •
Snowflakes are intricate and beautiful. They are a source of interest to scientist – but photographers can make amazing pictures with them.
Image taken from SnowCrystals.com External link - opens new tab/page

Snowflakes are amazing!

Close up pictures of snowflakes show how intricate and beautiful they can be. And there are an infinite variety of them too. Here are a few ideas…

Some history about snowflakes

The perfect six-sided snowflake exists, but is not the only sort. Early snowflake pictures were taken by farmers’ son, Wilson “snowflake” Bentley  External link - opens new tab/page (February 9, 1865 – December 23, 1931) from Vermont. Aged 15 he was captivated by snowflakes. It started with looking down a microscope. But in 1885 he began experiments with a camera too. After struggling with the early camera technology he began to make some progress. During his life he made thousands of photos of snowflakes. His work still dominate our ideas today. In particular he was the first to claim snowflakes are unique and six sided. His pictures are also some of the best too.

Snowflake photographs by Wilson "snowflake" Bentley

• Snowflake Photographs by Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley •
Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley was famous for his snowflake photographs. Nearly a century after his death we are still using the images.

Research has shown how diverse snowflakes can be. They are not all perfect, regular shapes either. In fact according to “New Scientist  External link - opens new tab/page” (a weekly publication, UK) there are many types. The various forms are created under different conditions…

  • -2°C = Simple hexagons and star shapes
  • -5°C to -10°C columns
  • -15°C Six sided crystals (dendrites) form again
  • -22°C onward… complex plates and columns form again

Here is detailed morphology diagram for snowflakes Morphology Diagram for snowflakes - External link - opens new tab/page. It shows the relationship between the snowflakes’ type and temperature/humidity.

Snowflakes go through a range of temperature, humidity and other changes while falling. They have a unique and sometimes violent history. They clash together. They may ball-up with other flakes. It’s common for them to have multiple crystals joined in one flake. They may circulate in the clouds for long periods. They may also melt and refreeze before descending to the ground. It is not a surprise they are all so different. There is a great infographic on SnowCrystals.com External link - opens new tab/page showing snow crystal growth and the no-two-alike idea.

Capturing snowflakes on camera

You can’t easily photograph snowflakes on the ground. The overall white in a snow mass makes it difficult to distinguish individual flakes. The small size makes them a challenge too. The best approach to snowflakes is two-fold.

  • Use a macro lens or macro extension tubes.
  • Use a clean (new) long hair artists paint brush. Sable hair is best. Use a small black velvet cloth (about 500mm x 500mm) to see the snowflakes.

The aim with these is simple. Tease out individual snowflakes onto a black background. Then get in close with the lens. If you are working with a macro lens help yourself out and use a tripod.

The snowflakes themselves are easily destroyed. The trick is to use the artists brush to lift snowflakes onto the velvet. The brush and velvet have hairs that support the snowflake without damage. Be as gentle as you can to preserve its delicate nature of the crystal.

Sadly tiny ice crystals tend to go grey when on a black background surface. When shot on a dark background they are best converted to monochrome. This helps to increase the contrast and definition of the crystal.

To show the beauty of the refracted light use a well-lit background. If you can, place the snowflake onto a glass slide delicately lifting it off the velvet. You can buy Blank Slides – Microscope accessories External link - opens new tab/pageBuy microscope slides for your snowflake photos. from various places. Make sure you have left the slides to cool down to the snow temperature or the snow will melt on it.

Be sure to keep your cloth, brush and slides cold and dry. Make sure your breath is not directed at the snowflake. Even slightly raised temperature or humidity will affect the snowflake while you are trying to photograph it. More than once I have had them dissolve in front of my eyes.

If you are using an actual microscope, or if you are using a glass slide try to get some backlighting. To get the best refractive results try light at different angles on the snowflake. The best results are not necessarily when the light is directly from below. The angled light tends to create contrasts on the snowflakes. This brings out light and dark as well as some aesthetic colourations from refraction through the crystal.

For your interest here is an amazing camera-microscope…

Celestron Dual Purpose Amoeba Digital Microscope – Blue External link - opens new tab/page
This an affordable and well reviewed digital microscope. It will do detailed images direct from your computer. It’s a photography tool which provides an opportunity to develop your macro skills. Hours of fun too!

Masterful shots

One of the acknowledged masters of the art of shooting snowflakes is Kenneth G. Libbrecht External link - opens new tab/page. He’s a professor of physics who researches crystal growth. He also runs the SnowCrystals.com External link - opens new tab/page website. There are wonderful resources on the site including a “how to guide” External link - opens new tab/page and many hints about photography and equipment. There are some wonderful galleries of images External link - opens new tab/page. There is also a section on how to grow your own snowflakes. Although, the latter was a bit more complex than I think I would go… but who knows. People in this field seem to get obsessive about it. Snowflakes are extraordinarily beautiful.

Two other sources of snowflake inspiration…

Official Snowflake Bentley Web Site. This site houses the Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley photographic collection.
For a huge range of inspiring snowflakes images check out this search page on Google: Snowflakes photography  External link - opens new tab/page

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Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photographer and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.

Buy a good tripod – nothing beats it

Good tripod as an all-rounder - Manfrotto 055XPROB Tripod

A quality, versatile and robust tripod – the Manfrotto 055XPROB Tripod External link - opens new tab/page is unbeatable as an all-rounder. Buy a good tripod – you will not regret it!

Can you recommend a good tripod?

Nothing beats a good tripod. Most people forget about them until they have struggled for a long time. Then they buy a cheap one. Later they have to think again. Well, I suggest you buy a good tripod now and save yourself strife down the line! I have recommend a good buy at the page end.

Why buy a good tripod?

Too many people I have taught and worked with have told me tales of three legged woes. Everyone thinks that to make your DSLR camera stable all you need is three legs. This is simply not true. Quality is just as important. You need a good tripod. Here are some reasons to go for a quality purchase from the start…

 Good Tripod  Cheap and cheerful
 Solid and stable  Limited by poor engineering
 Reliable fittings  Fittings regularly break
 Quality paint  Poor or no paint – highly reflective aluminium
 Quality footings seal the legs to stop dirt getting in  Legs left unsealed let dirt in and grit quickly wears the joints
Strong enough for all DSLRs and a big lens Wobbly with anything larger than a bridge camera
 Top platform precisely engineered – no movement and good fitting for the camera  Wobbly platform, poor clip, loose fitting. Screws sometimes damage the camera
Quality joints on legs for long life and stable grip Leg joints quickly wear and become wobbly with poor materials
 Multiple leg positions to allow adjustment on uneven ground  One leg position
 Fully adjustable top column to allow multiple positions.  One wobbly top column
 Legs can be adjusted to many wide angles  One angle for legs
 Reversible – so you can get your camera near the ground  Not reversible
 Proper hand grips  No hand grips
 Interchangeable head fitting  No head fitting – or low quality flip up quick release

There are other reasons to buy a good tripod, but you get the idea. Nearly every aspect of camera stability is reduced to keep the price down. I am not one to advocate gear lust or spending money where it is not worth it. However, I have come across each of the design and quality flaws above. From personal choice and experience it’s clear only the best is good enough when making your camera stable.

Adaptability

While a quality tripod is great, you normally need to buy a good head too. Cheap tripods usually without them, or have poor quality ones. A good tripod head is an investment for life. Inter-changeable heads are very useful. I have five heads for different purposes: for macro work; small cameras; panoramas; and one for precise adjustment. My most versatile head I use every day for general purpose work. The Manfrotto 322RC2 Heavy Duty Grip Ball Head External link - opens new tab/page is precise robust, reliable, versatile and has never let me down.

So which tripod do you recommend?

I recommend…

Manfrotto 055XPROB Tripod External link - opens new tab/page

This is a robust, and well designed unit with strong legs. It comes as a legs and platform – ready for your inter-changeable head. The black paint is hard wearing and will not create odd light effects. The two comfortable hand grips are essential in cold weather. The legs and centre column are adaptable to a wide range of angles and heights.

 
The Manfrotto 055XPROB is a great tripod and would make a wonderful present for a DSLR owner. It is on special offer on Amazon. Buy one now. External link - opens new tab/page

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Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photographer and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.

Lag time – don’t miss the shot

Lag time - test one

• Lag time – test one •
There is a gap between pushing the button and the making the photo.
(image by Netkonnexion)

Every time you push the button…

There’s a period when not much happens. Lag time is the total time taken for the camera to complete the exposure process from the button push. In that process is a lot of detail. Here we look at lag time. With a simple test you can get a feel for the lag time in your camera.

Why is lag time important?

If you buy a camera for action shots you want minimal lag time. Otherwise you look and press, but the action has gone. Of course you can anticipate the action. This is how we all deal with lag time. But to know what time to anticipate you need a feel for the camera. A long lag time is likely to make your guess about when to press the shutter button less accurate. So it’s in your interest to know the lag time and practice with it. If you know the lag it makes it easer to guess the delay for shots.

Shutter lag – don’t misuse the term

Some people use the term shutter lag in a confusing way. They mean it to be the same as lag time. In the past this may have been the case. In early cameras most of the exposure process was completed by the shutter. Today we have a lot of other steps involved. The list of various time related things in the exposure process is quite long today…

  1. LCD activation of the picture (LCD display and electronic [mirrorless] viewfinders only).
  2. Thinking time between seeing a subject on the display and the finger push on the button.
  3. Time taken to get a focus.
  4. Aperture – time to calculate & set aperture size.
  5. Meter – time from light reading to exposure set up.
  6. Digital sensor start up to be ready.
  7. Shutter motor/mechanism actuation.
  8. Shutter opening.
  9. Digital capture of light data.
  10. Shutter closing.
  11. Data emptied from sensor ready for next exposure.

These items may overlap, run simultaneously or be in sequence. Some may not apply to some cameras. It depends on the camera model, design, efficiency and the components involved.

This list adds up to the total lag time. The first five items are not shutter related. They delay the firing of the shutter. They are shutter delay times. The other items are shutter lag items. They are responsible for the shutter and sensor capture of the exposure. They determine the shutter process from start to finish. These are the shutter lag items.

To be clear, lag time is the sum of all the lag items. Shutter lag is only those items related to the shutter-sensor system.

For a more detailed look at various components of lag times check out: Definition: Shutter lag; Shutter delay; Lag time; Processing lag;

Getting the shot – lag time explored

In order to know your camera better you can actually measure your lag time. So here is a method you can use at home. I have tested it using two different pieces of equipment and on two cameras with good results.

A word of warning. The on-board flash crosses all the other lag/delay times and may extend your total lag quite a lot. This is because it takes time to charge up ready for the flash. It will affect the results. Before testing turn off your flash. Check your manual if you are not sure how. Both these methods have back-lighting. You will get enough light without it.

Explanation/method: to measure the lag time we need to identify all the processes involved. I have done this for you above. This allows you to know what parts of the process are holding things up. You will see later that can help you save time.

Next we need to find a way to mark the start and end of the process. Fortunately the camera helps us. When the shutter button is pushed we know the exposure process is started. The clever part is that if we photograph a timer we know when the exposure process is finished because the clock will show the finish time.

To find out our lag time is easy. We activate a clock at the same time as we push the shutter button. We do this while photographing the clock. When the shot is taken the end of the the lag time is shown on the photograph.

Two methods to try out

In the photo “Test one” above I have used this method with my smart phone. I set up the stop-watch app on my phone. Then I pushed “start” with my left hand. I simultaneously held the camera and pushed the shutter button. The key is to make sure you set off both the timer and shutter button at once. If you do, the the photograph will show the lag time. In the photo above it shows 69/100ths of a second. This is my lag time for a photo taken on my little Canon G12. Use a tripod or stand if holding your camera and pushing the button at once is not steady enough.

If you do not have a smart phone (or a stop watch) to photograph, try this web page…
This page will allow you to test your Digital Camera’s shutter lag… External link - opens new tab/page.
(Note: this page is about your total lag time even though it refers to the shutter lag).

Shutter Lag Test two

• Shutter Lag Test two •
Test your Digital Camera’s lag time External link - opens new tab/page.

Follow the instructions on that page. You will see a very slight retard on the clock at the ‘zero’ point. That gives you time to notice the top point and press the shutter button. The resulting photo will tell you the lag time on your camera.

I have run tests on my camera using both the web page and the stop-watch app method. They give consistent results. I feel confident you will find either test will work for you.

Pre-focus to get the shot

Notice on the second test page there are two tests. The second one shows you how you can shorten your lag time. If you pre-focus the camera that saves some pre-shutter time. Focus takes quite a bit of time. So if it is already focused when you take the shot your lag is reduced.

To reduce the delay with pre-focus press the button half way down while looking at the clock. The camera will focus and take meter reading. Then you can hold the half way position – this is called focus-lock. Hold your half-down position until, at zero. Then push the shutter button the rest of the way down. You will normally find your camera lag time is greatly reduced. Possibly by as much as a half. Something to bear in mind for future shots.

Accuracy

Of course you might take a totally bad reading for your fist shot. After playing I found that for both methods you need to practice a little to get consistent readings.

To ensure you get a good overall result I suggest taking ten readings after some practice. Here are readings from my run of ten… 0.53 + 0.53 + 0.69 + 0.98 + 0.89 + 0.66 + 0.74 + 0.65 + 0.66 + 0.74 = 7.07
If we divide the total by ten we will get an average reading. It will iron out any anomalous readings.
Thus: 7.07÷10 = 0.71 (rounded to two places). The lag time on this camera is therefore 71/100ths of a second.

This ‘average’ method provides us with a consistent standard over our readings. This is a more accurate method of gauging the lag time.

What have we done?

The things a modern camera does to take a picture has created a long lag. The lag time is the sum of all the different things that impact the exposure process. From button-press to complete capture-of-data is the lag time.

We have looked at two ways of testing the lag time: a stop watch app; and a web page timer. I have also suggested using an average reading to iron out anomalies.

If you go through this process you will know your camera much better. But more to the point you will have a new confidence. You will know how long it takes to complete an exposure. And, you will know how much time to delay for a shot.

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Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photographer and editor of this site. He has also run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.

Dirt kills kit – protect your equipment

Tripod With Bags • Dirt and grit is a camera killer. Prevent it from getting into your kit

• Tripod with protective bags •
Dirt and grit is a camera killer. Prevent it from getting into your kit.

Dirty photography gear will stop working.

It is surprising how much dirt will get into your gear. It’s a kit killer, damaging everything. You can prevent it with care. You will save a big expense down the line too.

Dirt is preventable

There is no doubt your equipment will get dirt on it. Even simple shoots can get close to dirt. Out side it’s almost certain that dust and will get on your kit. In Summer photogs use cameras on beaches, in fields and many other dusty environments. What should you do to protect your kit?

Observation is the key. Keep an eye open for anything dusty around you. Be particular about sand and grit. If you get those in your camera you will suffer a huge clean up problem. Sand and small dirt particles will get under the focus rings on your lens, under the lens cap and possibly into your camera body. There are two key points.

First, think about your environment. Small particles hide even in very clean places. There are some particular things which you should look out for around you. This post has more details: 10 Tips for Saving Your Camera

Secondly, pay attention to your clothes and other equipment. Yes, that’s right. The biggest danger to your camera is transference. Your clothes, shoes and other equipment collect dirt particles.

Transference – The secret route for dirt

I first noticed this problem when changing a lens in the boot (trunk) of my car. I put a lens down on my coat to put on another one. As I put it down a cloud of dust puffed out from under the coat. The dust caught in the sun as it drifted out. It occurred to me that all sorts of outdoor items go in the car boot. It is a dusty place. When I swept the carpet I found all sorts of particles. These came from boots, coats, ordinary clothes and other equipment. If you have pets the problem is much worse.

Looking more closely I also discovered my tripod was a source of grit. After shooting on a beach I had just put it back in its bag. There was lots of dirt and grit in that bag. Looking more closely, sand and dirt had got into the legs of my tripod too. Where I had clamped them shut the sand had left scratches and damage on the paintwork. When I shook the tripod I could hear dirt rattling inside.

After that I looked for ways to keep the tripod feet clean. The result can be seen in the picture above. Where dirt or grit is found I use a rubber band and plastic bag on each leg. Before putting the tripod away I simply remove the bags. I dispose of them sensibly. Nothing is transferred into the camera kit.

Camera kit is delicate

Most of our equipment can be damaged by dirt. The hidden routes to getting it into our camera are all around us. Try to change lenses and store your equipment in clean and cleanable places. Try to find ways dirt can be transferred into your bags and storage places. Find simple ways to eliminate it. In the long run it is cheaper and more convenient to protect than to pay for repairs.

Research photography cleaning equipment.  External link - opens new tab/page to Research photography cleaning equipment..

Recommended cleaning tool
Dirt on your camera, or worse, on your digital sensor? You need this tool. An efficient blower, the stream of air will clear dirt and grit from damageable places. Use it to clear dirt from the camera sensor and to blow out dust . It is an indispensable tool for the keen photographer. Giottos Rocket Air Blower – Black.  External link - opens new tab/page

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Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is editor of Photokonnexion. He has professional experience in photography, writing, image libraries, and computing. He is an experienced, webmaster and a trained teacher. Damon runs regular training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’
By Damon Guy :: Profile on Google+.

Autumn photography – 50 things to think about

Autumn Cherry Leaves

• Autumn Cherry Leaves •
As Fall is upon us. Think of new ways to pull in the eye of the viewer.
Autumn Cherry Leaves by Netkonnexion on Flickr

Autumn is a great time of year.

There is so much to see and photograph. Being out in the open air and lovely locations is part of the attraction. Here are some other important and photographic things to consider.

Locations
  • Don’t always go to the same spot. Find somewhere new every Autumn.
  • Fall colours depend on the species, which may not be shown on maps.
  • Check with park information centres to see if the colours are right.
  • Information centres are great at giving directions to the best locations.
  • Watch weather forecasts to see when the best light is likely to show up.
  • Check websites for the area near the location for useful information.
Colours

What makes Autumn particularly exciting is the lovely russet and golden colours. Making those come out is not always easy. Think about these points…

  • Even slight greyness in the sky can dampen the colours.
  • Bright colour can be lost against a bright sky, exaggerate colour contrast.
  • Shoot yellows against a darker background so they don’t get lost.
  • Golden colours are best with a red dusk. Aim for times in the Golden Hour.
  • Don’t use a pop-up flash. It will flatten the colour and depth.
  • Use off-camera flash from the side to make leaves translucent and bright.
  • Use side light as much as possible to emphasis shadows and define shapes.
  • Use any greens you can as a back-drop for golden colours.
  • Low sunlight peeping under clouds often brings out yellows.
  • Take pictures after rain – the wetness often revitalises colours.
  • Consider a filter on your camera to exaggerate natural colours.
  • Try shots with as many mixed colours as possible.
  • Try shots with lots of similar colours across the picture.
Equipment

Every shoot demands its own approach. But here are some ideas to help the Autumn shots work for you…

  • A tripod is essential. A fuzzy shot of a great scene is horrible!
  • Most people forget the wide angle shots.
  • Remember that zoom lenses flatten perspective – consider prime lenses.
  • Consider using white boards and gold reflectors to help bring up colours.
  • You can’t make great images if you are cold/wet. Wear proper clothing.
  • Beware of changing lenses in damp air!
The shots

Found a great place to rejoice in colour and texture? Now you need to think about composition and ideas for your shots…

  • Check out our resources on composition.
  • Before going spend two hours looking at images by others (Google)  External link - opens new tab/page.
  • Work out a list of, say, 25 shots you would like to try out.
  • Concentrate your efforts on a few ideas.
  • Use your trip to try at least one type of shot new to you.
  • Practice your chosen shots before you go.
  • Remember to work the scene at the location.
  • Remember The fifteen second landscape appraisal.
  • Have a go at this old sailors trick to improve landscapes.
  • People often look up when in trees. Look down, there is plenty there.
  • Get really low.
  • Get really close.
  • Experiment with Depth of Field:.
  • Light leaves from behind. Translucent leaves are wonderful.
  • Consider backlighting to bring out shapes.
  • Hold up something interesting and photograph it with your hand.
  • Dogs look great in leaves! Capture your pet having fun!
  • Take a macro lens or macro tubes. Get really close.
  • Look for golden, yellows and reds in reflections… they look great!
Try going to manual (M) settings…

There is nothing more exciting. Get great images knowing they came out the way you intended. Avoid ‘auto’ shots programmed by a boffin at the camera factory.

Autumn and you…

Don’t be so intense that its not fun! Love your trip, enjoy the moment and if possible share it with a friend. Make some great images along the way.

Have a great Autumn.

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Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is managing editor of Photokonnexion.com with professional experience in photography, writing, image libraries, and computing. He is also an experienced, webmaster and a trained teacher. Damon runs regular training for digital photographers who are just starting out.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’
By Damon Guy :: Profile on Google+

Tripod myths – why are amateurs tripod shy?

Me and my tripod - reflected in paintwork - tripod myths

• Me and my tripod – reflected in paintwork – tripod myths •
I use a tripod most days in some pretty tight situations. They are
quick, effective and give great results!
[Image by Damon Guy • Click to view large]

Tripods improve your results – fact!

Tripod myths can be heard regularly. Actually they make life a lot easier and faster. So, why are amateurs tripod shy? Why buy cheap? Why is simplicity apparently so difficult for tripod starters? Read on…

What are the tripod myths?

Over the years I have heard all the excuses. Here are some things I have heard…

  • I’ll miss the moment!
  • Tripods are too much bother.
  • I can shoot great shots hand-held.
  • It slows me up.
  • I like to walk the scene…
  • They are cumbersome, get in the way and heavy.
  • It’s not possible or easy to use it all the time.

I am sure there are other issues. But let’s look at these in detail.

Tripod myths: Missing the moment?

Every photographer gets lucky sometimes. They happen to point the camera pointing right and, snap, they got it.

Let’s be honest. How many times does that lucky capture happen? “Journalists?”, I hear you say? Actually, they rarely get lucky either. Photo-journalists train in preparation, planning and investigation. Being there and aware when the event happens is not an accident. They get the story time and time again.

If you plan for your tripod you will get the shot too. You won’t miss the shot getting your DSLR out either.

Forethought and planning are good photographic habits. Cultivate and develop these skills. You get the shot, and it’ll be sharper. If you are going to shoot, do it properly. Have both camera and tripod ready. Don’t be a victim of tripod myths, be in control of your photography.

Too much bother? One of the tripod myths that is just silly

What can be too much bother about getting a sharp, properly framed image? Loading a tripod is no more trouble than putting your camera in the car. It takes only 15 seconds to set up. The tripod will also give you time and scope to take a great shot. It holds your camera for lens changes and while scouting the next shot. Bother? Not really.

Bothered people think tripods are hard work. Do they realise how much the picture is improved? Attention to detail over your shots is what makes excellent images. Taking a quick snap may be no bother. Its unlikely to yield a great image either. This is one of the tripod myths that does not stand up!

Tripod myths: Great hand held shots

There are lots of situations where great light and a steady hand can get a sharp result. Congratulations. The time and effort you put into your photography is paying off. However, of all the situations I take pictures in, only about a third can be hand held. High ISO might help. More likely digital Noise would spoil the image. Better to take a longer exposure and use, say, ISO100. Quality is important.

Tripod myths will limit you to one third of your potential as a photog. It makes you a limited photographer. Tripods extend your shooting time, flexibility and quality of image.

Tripod myths: It slows me up

Yes, finally, a fact! Tripods make you think about your photograph. Perhaps not one of the tripod myths, more of a tripod mistake.

Since digital cameras became common I see a lot of machine-gun photography. A keen photog arrives, sprays off a hundred shots… Then, off they go. Wow.

Spend the first few minutes considering options. Proceed with a plan and with care. Cover all the shots you need. Sometimes you will get new ideas. Great, get more shots.

Once, at an aircraft museum with a keen photographer I was alone in minutes. My friend shot out of sight. We met up later. He had over 1000 pictures. He was elated. I had less than seventy shots. “Ah!”, he said. “You should’ve left the tripod at home!”

Later that week things turned around. He had eleven fair shots and one really good one. He had spent hours and hours in post-processing and missed lots of sleep. My more careful approach paid off. I had more than 40 quality images. As he looked at them he kept saying, “I took a picture of that too, but it didn’t come out”. And, “How did you get that one to look so good?”. My care, quality and composition paid off. The tripod helped me think about my photography and take care. I only spent about two hours in post-processing too. Most on simple tweaks. I had plenty of time for other shoots that week.

One question… Who was really slowed up here?

Tripod myths: Working the scene

One of my regular jobs involves 15 – 20 finished pictures of a scene. Picture order and camera height is important. We often work in low light. Space is restricted at many sites. We are not allowed to do any post-processing.

This is fast work. In 15 minutes I make up to 35 shots at a high enough standard to meet the needs of a court case.

Does a tripod hold me up or prevent me working the scene? Does it prevent my shots? On the contrary. I could not do the job without it. I would have to take many more shots. My shots would be less flexible. I would not achieve court-ready sharpness and detail. Without a tripod I could not work the scene properly.

Tripod myths: Cumbersome, heavy, intrusive?

Sometimes. A tripod can be badly adapted for what you are doing. So, if you are going to do something a lot, buy the right tripod. Travel a lot? Get a light one. Work on beaches a lot? Choose sealed feet to keep the sand out. Working special scenes? Get a special tripod. General photography? Buy general.

If you have the wrong equipment you can rightly claim it’s no good! So, buy the right equipment for the job. Make sure you get a quality piece of equipment. You spend thousands on your camera and lenses, so there is little point in spending only ten on your tripod. Quality workmanship and materials are important to producing quality images. You would not accept less with your camera so why with your tripod? This is one of the tripod myths that does stand up – if you have the wrong equipment. Get it right and you have a friend for life.

Sometimes ya gotta go with the flow…

I am not saying tripods are everything. In fact there are many situations where they are not suitable or you can’t use them. Also, we all enjoy the freedom and creativity of hand-held shots sometimes. If we fall prey to tripod myths we will never get past auto settings and bright daylight shots.

All I am saying is, don’t limit yourself. Get past the tripod myths. Buy a tripod and make sure you know how to use it. Your photography will improve if you use it a lot. Use it only a little and you’ll pay a penalty.

Why not look at some of the options now…

General tripods for DSLRs  External link - opens new tab/page
Manfrotto – Quality tripods for committed photographers  External link - opens new tab/page.

Also check out this post and recommendation…
Buy a good tripod – nothing beats it
Manfrotto 055XPROB Tripod Legs Only – Black External link - opens new tab/page

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Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is managing editor of Photokonnexion.com with professional experience in photography, writing, image libraries, and computing. He is also an experienced, webmaster and a trained teacher. Damon runs regular training for digital photographers who are just starting out.
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By Damon Guy :: Profile on Google+

Umbrellas and softboxes

umbrellas and softboxes

• Softbox Vs. Umbrella •
Umbrellas and softboxes seem to have similar characteristics… or do they?

What IS the difference?

Photographers learning to use lights find it difficult to understand the difference between a softbox and umbrella set-up. It is important to understand if you want to have control of light.

The nature of soft and hard light

Hard light is not some mutated form of ordinary light. It is a type of light that is focussed and which shows a hard transition from bright to dark. The shadow line is a sharp contrast. On the other hand, soft light wraps itself around curves and has a soft transition from light to dark.

The definitions of hard and soft light tell us much about the characteristics of the light but not how the light is formed. Well, it turns out that the light source, its shape, size and focus or diffusion as well as distance from the subject all have an impact on the characteristics of light.

Photographic umbrellas and softboxes

In the video Mark Cleghorn examines the characteristics of photographic umbrellas and softboxes. He does some great shots with both. Pay attention to the way he uses the lights and what characteristics he points out. Distance and size of the sources play an essential role in the formation of the softness and hardness of the light. His experiments are interesting and show you how the nearness of a large light source can create softness. It seems counter intuitive, but it is correct.

The first half of this video is very useful and you will learn a lot about Umbrellas and softboxes as light sources. The second half showcases advanced features of Photoshop. This is a less useful section if you are only interested in the practical issues for umbrellas and softboxes. You can safely skip it.

Lastolite Umbrella Versus Softbox from Lastolite on Vimeo  External link - opens new tab/page.

Types of lights

There are many types of light source that can generate light for umbrellas and softboxes. For most situations it is best to use off-camera flash units. The more expensive studio flash units are more for professional use. If you are just starting out they will be more powerful than required for most general purpose needs. Off camera flash helps give you flexible use. It is also easily controlled. You can work with both umbrellas and softboxes with an off camera flash.

Fortunately, most umbrellas and softboxes units designed for off-camera flash will mount most types of flash units. When looking to purchase lights think about what you want to achieve. Then buy the flash unit needed to meet your need.

Below is an example of a photographic umbrella set…

DynaSun W968S Professional Kit with Holder, Umbrella, Stand and Bag for Cold Shoe Mount Flash Gun Flashgun  External link - opens new tab/page
This is a high quality but affordable photographic umbrella unit. The complete package includes everything you need except the off-camera flash unit. The inclusion of the small carrying bag makes the whole thing neat and well presented.

When it comes to the purchase of a soft box these too have the universal fittings for off camera flash units (although studio units are also available). Here is an example softbox…

24″ 60cm x 60cm EZ-Fold Studio Softbox Kit with 2 x Diffusers and Ballhead Bracket for Portable Flash and Speedlite  External link - opens new tab/page
This is a high quality, well produced softbox with easily adjustable fittings and a variety of ways to set up light diffusion within the unit.

Of course both these units are among many others in the field. You can see the various types of each on these search pages…
Photographic umbrella – Search page on Amazon  External link - opens new tab/page

Softboxes – search page on Amazon

These various examples include studio light units, always on bulb mountings and fittings for off-camera flash. Check for what you want before you buy. The most flexible is for off-camera flash when you are starting out.

No removable flash? Read this: Off-camera flash. It’s a great introduction and recommends an affordable flash unit.

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Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photographer and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.