Back to Back Issues Page
DSLR Guide News, Mar. 2006 - Accessorize Your SLR
March 28, 2006

Accessorize Your Digital SLR

Table of Contents

Intro - Spring is in the Air
SLR Q and A - Do You Need a Filter?
Photo Recipe - Product Photography
The Gear - Olympus E330 and SanDisk SD card
Recent Updates - What's new at the Guide
SLR E-course - Master Your Digital SLR
Learn More - Digital SLR Resources


Spring is right around the corner and I - for one - am looking forward to it.

This was the first year that I spent a lot of time photographing in tough weather conditions, including snow and rain. I kept my digital SLR protected with a simple plastic bag and rubber band setup that worked quite well.

I did capture a lot of photos that I really like, especially a series of family and friends sledding up in the snow.

While snow and rain present their own challenges, I am more of a fair weather photographer. I also like the fact that it stays light later into the evening, because this gives me more time after work to go out and take some photos.

When it gets dark at 5pm, you have to get creative about when and where you photograph.

In between enjoying the change in weather and heading outside more with my digital SLR, I've been hard at work adding new content to the Digital SLR Guide. There is a lot of new information about digital SLR accessories, and I'll tell you all about it later on in the newsletter.

For now, let's get started with some Q and A!

Digital SLR Q&A

Question: Do I Need a Filter For My Lens?
Answer: Yes, there are four that are practical and useful.

Whether you are shopping for a digital SLR camera or already own one, filters can come in handy.

A filter is (typically) a circular piece of glass or plastic that screws onto the front of your lens. While there are some square filters and filters that go in the back of the lens (rather than the front) they are less common than the circular variety.

A filter modifies the light that is entering your lens. They can bend or block wavelengths of light, change colors, soften the image or eliminate atmospheric haze.

One category of filters is designed for special effects: they add fog to your photos, create starbursts out of light sources, and are more responsible for distorting the image instead of improving it.

On the other side are what I call the practical filters: Ultra Violet, Polarizing, Neutral Density and Warming.

A UV filter is clear, and protects the front of your lens from damage, a polarizing filter reduces glare and reflections in nature, neutral density filters let you use slow shutter speeds even when there's a lot of light and a warming filter makes colors more vibrant when it's shady or overcast.

Do you really need a filter to do all of these things? No, they aren't required.

In fact, there are many adjustments you can make to a digital photograph in an image editing program that mimic the effects of different types of filters.

So it really comes down to this one question: do you want to spend your time manipulating photos after the fact, or taking them the way you want them to look in the first place?

If you prefer the latter, then a filter is the right choice for you.

If you'd like more detailed information about filters, read more about them on the digital SLR filter page.

Photo Recipe

A photo recipe is a simple way of breaking down a complicated photography technique.

I'd like to hear your ideas for photo recipes. Contact me and I'll include your requests in a future issue of the newsletter.

February Photo Recipe - Product Shots
This month's photo recipe is about how to get better product shots of items that you want to sell online.


  • Digital SLR Camera
  • Standard zoom lens
  • A tripod
  • White paper or foamcore
  • An external flash
  • A flash diffuser

STEP 1 - Set up the table
You're going to want to set up your product on a flat level surface like a table.

While you can use the floor, it makes it almost impossible to get low angle shots of the product. A low-angle shots gives your product more weight and importance and it doesn't appear that you're looking down on it from high above.

Once you've got a clear table, lay out your paper or foamcore so that there is a white surface underneath the product and a white surface behind it. This white surface will make the product the highlight of the photo instead of the background.

Why white? If you're going to post the photo online, the background for most web pages is white. When you put your product photo online, it will blend seamlessly with the page background, allowing the product to stand out.

STEP 2 - Set up the camera
Set your tripod up next to the table, and position the camera so that it is slightly above the product.

While you can get away without using a tripod, I highly recommend it. The tripod not only keeps the camera stable while you take shots, it allows you to reposition your product on the table without also having to deal with the camera.

You won't have to fiddle around much with your lens. Just pick a good focal length and stick with it. Since you can move the product around that your photographing, you should not have to change the position of the lens once it's set.

Attach the external flash to your camera. The reason to use an external flash (and not the built-in one that comes with your camera) is that it creates more even illumination, especially when you use a flash diffuser.

The flash diffuser spreads out the light from the flash so that you don't get those bright highlights and dark shadows that are typical of flash photography.

The best possible solution is to bounce the flash off of a reflective surface, like a piece of white paper. The reflected light is even softer than the diffused flash light and creates even illumination for your product.

STEP 3 - Play with flash compensation
You're all set up and ready to go.

The table has the white background, the product is placed and positioned where you want it, and the camera is locked onto the tripod so that you can move the product around without changing the camera angle.

You've got your flash turned on and you're ready to take some photos.

Here's the trick: even with a diffused flash, you still might be hitting the product with too much light. In this case, find the flash exposure compensation setting on your digital SLR, and reduce it by -1 or -2.

This will reduce the amount of light that your flash puts out to create softer light.

Setup - this photo shows the setup, with the white background, the camera mounted on a tripod, the external flash attached and a diffuser in place.

Natural Light - this product shot is taken with natural window light. It looks fine enough, the only problem is that in order to get the shot, I had to use a very wide aperture on my lens. This wide aperture reduces the depth of field (or focus) so that only the front of the ball is clear.

Built-in Flash - in this shot I've used the built-in flash on the camera. The light hits the ball dead-on, and while the effect isn't terrible, other product shots may suffer from direct lighting like this.

External Flash - now I've switched to my external flash. You can see that the light now has direction. The best part is that I am able to use a narrower aperture on the lens to increase the depth of field and get more of the ball in focus.

External Flash With Diffuser - here's the external flash with the diffuser added. It's not a huge difference from the regular external flash, but you'll notice that the colors of the ball are different with the diffused flash.

External Flash With Diffuser and Reflection - in this shot I've angled the flash to the left, and then bounced the light back onto the ball with a white manila envelope. The light is even, not harsh, and the best part is that I can angle the direction of it any way that I want until the product looks just right.

Digital SLR Gear

This month the gear section of this digital SLR newsletter will focus on two products: a new digital SLR from Olympus and a new type of SD memory card from SanDisk.

The Olympus E330
I've mentioned this camera briefly before, but now that it has been released I can tell you more about it.

The stand-out feature ot this camera is that it is the first digital SLR to feature a live preview mode on the LCD. With all other digital SLRs, you have to take photos by looking through the viewfinder.

This is in stark contrast to compact digital cameras. Every compact digital camera on the market lets you use the LCD to compose photos and you rarely have to use the viewfinder (in fact, some compact cameras have eliminated the viewfinder completely to conserve space).

The Olympus E330 is the first camera that combines the viewfinder of a digital SLR with the live LCD preview of a compact digital camera. The LCD also flips out from the camera body so that you can take high and low-angle shots.

Pair this with a very wide angle lens (it starts at 14mm), a self-cleaning sensor (to keep dust out of your photos) and 7 megapixels (for great 11x17 prints) and this camera looks like a real winner.

Is a Digital SLR Guide for this camera on the way? You bet - but it's going to be a couple of weeks.

In the meantime, you can read more about this camera at Amazon.

The SanDisk SD Plus With USB
One of the challenges for the digital photographer is getting photos off the memory card and onto the computer.

While it doesn't take all that much work it's a real bottleneck for many people, especially if you take lots of photos and fill up memory cards quickly.

Memory card manufacturers have made life easier by creating USB memory card readers. These devices plug into your computer permanently and allow you to transfer photos whenever you like just by plugging your memory card into the reader.

But now there's an alternative, at least for anyone who's digital SLR uses an SD memory card. SanDisk has created an SD card that flips open to reveal a standard USB connector. Now you can transfer photos from card to computer no matter where you are.

You don't need a memory card reader and you don't need to attach you camera to your computer.

While an all-in-one card and USB connector is not available for Compact Flash yet, it now seems like it's only a matter of time.

You can find out more about memory cards on the digital SLR memory card page.

Recent Updates to The Guide

I have decided to accessorize.

And while my idea of accessories won't get me noticed by any of the New York fashion magazines, it should help you decide what extras you'd like to get for your digital SLR camera.

Here's a quick summary of the new pages that have been added to the Digital SLR Guide:

  • Batteries - don't leave home without one. A backup battery is also a good idea and if you're feeling really ambitious you can get a battery grip.
  • Digital SLR Memory Cards - introduces you to SD and Compact Flash cards, the importance of memory card speed, and the varieties of different memory card readers.
  • Camera Cases - once you have an SLR you need something to carry it around in. This page helps you sort through the different bags you can get for your SLR.
  • Filters - there are hundreds of filters that you can get to attach to your lens, but only 4 that are especially useful.
  • Tripods - if you use slow shutter speeds you have to keep the camera stable with a tripod, monopod or other type of camera support.
  • External Flash - most digital SLRs have built-in flash, but if you want more from your flash, an external unit is the way to go.

Latest Camera Guide
I've finally found the time to complete another camera guide - this time it's for the Pentax *ist DL.

I wanted to take a closer look at the Pentax, since it is currently the most inexpensive digital SLR on the market. In February, Pentax dropped the price on this camera by $200, breaking the $600 barrier for a digital SLR.

While it's clearly not a camera for an experienced photographer, it is a great camera for a traveller on a budget.

Read the complete Pentax *ist DL Guide.

SLR Guide E-Course

This digital SLR camera tutorial is for the beginning digital SLR photographer.

The 5-week e-course introduces you to all of the features of your digital SLR camera: aperture, shutter speed, bracketing, ISO, white balance, autofocus modes and more.

The goal of the course is to make you feel comfortable with your new camera so that you worry less about your camera settings more about capturing a photographic opportunity.

Eavh week's lesson is presented in the same practical plain-English style as the rest of the Digital SLR Guide, so you can rest assured that it won't be overly technical and I won't use a lot of jargon without explaining it first.

There is a fee for the e-course, but it's not outrageous: for less than $3 per week, you can learn how to master the controls on your digital SLR.

Registration is easy, and you'll be able to start your first lesson the day you sign up.

Register Today

Digital SLR Learning Resources

This is a new section of the newsletter that I'm introducing this month.

While the digital SLR e-course will introduce you to the features of your digital SLR camera, there are plenty of ways that you can learn more advanced techniques.

Each month I will present a new photography book or online resource that will take your photos to the next level, and help you continue to learn about photography (if that's your desire).

March Resource: Photography, 8th Edition
This month's learnin resource is the definitive book on photography: Photography, 8th Edition by London, Upton, Stone, Kobre and Brill.

First, a disclaimer: it's expensive. I would recommend that you find a used copy of the book since this will save you a considerable bundle of cash.

So what makes this book so expensive?

Simply put, this is everything that you will ever want to know about photography: the history of photography, camera parts, how a camera works, composition technique, how to print from a negative, using studio lights, filters, film and more.

Even though they have added a section for digital cameras, this book is film-centric. After all, there is an entire chapter devoted to developing negatives and making your own prints.

This isn't a complete waste though: every film process has a modern digital equivalent. If you want to know how to improve your photos with software like Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Elements, it helps to know what it means to dodge and burn. These are tools available in Photoshop that get their names from a darkroom printing technique.

The information about camera mechanics is also valuable, since your digital SLR operates a lot like a film SLR. The only real difference is that the film is replaced with a sensor.

I recommend this book if you really want to understand how your camera works, and if you want a handy reference (besides the Digital SLR Guide, of course) about all things related to photography. And I'm not kidding about ALL things.

The book also features a wide variety of photographic examples from masters of photography. These photos not only clearly illustrate photographic techniques, they also serve as as inspiration if your well of creativity has run dry.

If you think you'll find this book helpful, you can buy Photography 8th Edition from Amazon. The book retails for $99.

I do recommend that you check out the marketplace, since you can find a used book there for a considerable discount. You might also be able to find this excellent photographic resource at your local discount bookstore - just make sure that you're getting the 8th Edition.

In Conclusion

I'd like to take this opportunity to welcome new readers of the Digital SLR Guide newsletter, and to invite you to get in touch.

My e-mail box is always open, and I enjoy hearing from you if you have questions or want to provide some feedback.

To regular readers of this newsletter, thanks for sticking with it. I hope that you continue to learn new information from both the newsletter and the Digital SLR Guide.

More is on the way. Nikon just announced that they expect to increase shipments of digital SLR cameras in 2006 by 30 percent! Clearly the consumer demand for digital SLR cameras is on the rise, and the Digital SLR Guide will be here to help digital SLR buyers and owners make sense of it all.

If you do know of someone in the market for a new digital SLR camera, let them know about the Guide. Your referrals are appreciated.

Thanks for reading, and I'll see you in a month!

--Chris Roberts, Your Digital SLR Guide

Ask a Question
Provide Your Feedback
Free Downloads
Latest Digital SLR News
Back to Back Issues Page