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Digital SLR Guide News, June 2007 - How to Brighten Your Photos
June 29, 2007
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Digital SLR Q & A
Question:I'm stuck! I want to get a great digital SLR camera but can't figure out if the Canon xTi is better than the Nikon D40x or the Sony A100. Which one should I get?
AnswerSometimes more options is not a great thing.
This is especially true in the world of digital SLR cameras. A couple of years ago, it was quite easy to make up your mind about which camera to get.
There weren't all that many to choose from, and each camera had unique features that set it apart from the competition.
Today, all that's changed. Now there are a wide variety of cameras to choose from and some are VERY hard to distinguish from their competition.
So what's a new camera buyer to do?
You want to make the move from your compact point and shoot to a more feature-rich digital SLR, but you also want to make sure that you get a camera that you'll be happy with for a long time to come. A digital SLR is NOT a cheap investment, so how do you make sure that your final choice is the right one?
My answer might surprise you: hold some cameras in your hands, and trust your gut instinct.
DO NOT get sucked in to the endless debates about megapixel counts, ISO noise, shutter blackout and whose dust control system is better.
My experience answering visitor questions and using the cameras themselves is that any digital SLR camera can take exceptional photographs. Yes, some produce less noise than others and yes, some dust control is better than others, but features like these are extremely hard to objectively compare. A lot of the information out there on the Internet about these features is OPINION and not FACT.
In the end, selecting the right camera can - and should - be a matter of what I call "digital SLR intangibles". These are the features of a particular camera that just make it "feel right" to you.
For example, one reader let me know that in a tossup between two competing cameras, one of them won out because its menus were more legible. For anyone with bad eyesight (like myself) this might be a make or break feature for a camera - but it's certainly not something you're going to read about in any online camera forum.
Think of your new digital SLR like an article of clothing - it's really hard to tell online that it's going to be the right fit. Instead, head on down to your local camera retailer and try a few in your hands to see if one feels better to you than all the rest. If one does, then that's probably the best digital SLR camera for you.
Digital SLR TechniqueI've spent the past several issues of this newsletter digging into the three camera controls that let you acheive a balanced exposure: aperture, shutter speed and ISO.
In the next couple of issues, I'm going to talk about some situations where you want to take manual control of these settings, and why leaving your camera in AUTO mode isn't going to get the shot right.
Important point: your camera wants all of your photos to turn out gray.
This is an over-simplification, but let me explain how it works. Let's say that you're taking a photo of a friend in front of a famous landmark, and you've got the camera set to AUTO mode.
In this case, the camera selects an aperture/shutter speed pair so that you get a balanced exposure.
In order to do this, the camera must evaluate the entire scene striking the sensor and make some decisions about the amount of available light. At high noon on a clear day there is plenty of available light, and at night there is very little.
But take the following scene: your friend is standing in the shade, but the landmark behind her is bathed in sunlight.
Light and dark are competing within the same image, and the camera must strike a balance between the two so that you get a photo that looks OK. In order to do this, the camera takes the middle ground. This middle ground is also called middle gray.
If you point your camera at a pure white wall and snap a photo in AUTO mode, it won't turn out white - it will look gray instead.
Your final photograph is actually under-exposed. If you open the photo in a photo editing program and use the "auto adjust" feature, you'll see the gray wall change to white.
This is an interesting point for anyone out there obsessed with taking photos of white walls, but let's find a more practical example: snow.
Virtually every photo I have ever seen of people in the snow is under-exposed. Once you realize that your camera wants to make everything in the photo close to middle gray, this makes perfect sense.
The camera's sensor detects that there is a HUGE amount of white in the photo and automatically assumes that it needs to drop down the exposure to compensate. Unfortunately the end result is not quite what you want: snow winds up looking gray, and anyone standing in it appears too dark in the final image.
So what's a snow-bound photographer to do?
The answer lies in taking manual control of your camera, and adjusting the aperture, shutter speed or ISO to intentionally over-expose the photograph when you take it.
Let's say that to take that snow photo in AUTO mode, your camera chooses the following settings:
These are the settings that the camera thinks will create a balanced exposure. But remember, the camera is being fooled by all of that white and is actually under-exposing the image (too little light is striking the camera's sensor).
Our goal then is to let MORE light into the camera.
We can do this in one of three ways:
This means that any one of the following changes will result in more light in the final image:
For the purpose of this exercise it doesn't matter which setting you change, but the important point is that you only change ONE of the three. You'll have to set your camera to manual mode because this is the only mode that allows you to change one setting at a time without affecting the others.
Also realize that by changing this one setting, the camera will think that you are over-exposing the photo.
In most cases, it's not OK to over-expose (the photo will appear washed out) but in this case it is. With white snow a camera set to AUTO mode will under-expose, so if you intentionally over-expose the image what you'll wind up with is a balanced exposure that doesn't require any adjustment after the fact.
So when should you intentionally over-expose? I'll talk about that in just a moment.
Learning ResourceThis month's learning resource comes to us from Canon.
Throughout the Summer, Canon is hosting free photography workshops at Yosemite, the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Park.
You get to borrow the latest Canon digital SLR cameras (and lenses!) and a professional photographer will then lead you to some prime photography locations to try it all out. Canon printers will be on hand so you can take away some memories, and participants will also receive CDs with images downloaded from the memory cards.
Here's the schedule:
You can find out more about these free workshops at Canon's Photography in the Parks web site.
How and WhenThis month's topic is When to Intentionally Over-Expose.
In the Technique portion of this newsletter, I introduced the idea that there are certain times when your camera set to AUTO mode is going to under-expose your photos.
I also provided one example of when you want to intentionally over-expose the image for best results: when taking photos in the snow.
But deliberate over-exposure can be used for a lot more than just taking balanced photos in the dead of Winter.
Here's a quick list of some of the most common times that you'll want to intentionally over-expose the image, plus the reason why the camera doesn't quite get it right:
In short, the best time to take manual control of your camera and intentionally over-expose your images is when the subject of the photo is predominantly white.
However, there are many other times where intentional over-exposure might yield a more interesting photograph than one that is perfectly exposed.
This technique doesn't work as well for landscape photography, but is often used in portrait and glamour shots.
The next time you're out and about in a big city with a lot of billboards, pay special attention to they way most clothing ads are lit. You'll find that the subject of the photograph is often over-exposed.
This technique is also used to great effect with celebrity photographs.
There's a simple reason: when you over-expose a portrait, areas of the person's face that would normally have tone and texture appear as pure white in the final photograph. This is a great way to hide skin blemishes and other flaws (no makeup required!) that would otherwise show up in a correctly exposed photo.
If you're taking a portrait of a friend who's self-concious about his or her skin, just intentionally over-expose the portrait for best results.
For those of you into photography jargon, portraits taken in this style are called high-key.
Example PhotosThe following sequence of photos illustrates how you can compensate for middle gray
The image below was taken in AUTO mode. You can see that the predominantly white background looks gray and that the main subject is under-exposed. Aperture: f/4, Shutter Speed: 1/125, ISO: 400.
In image #2, I made ONE change: I slowed down the shutter speed to 1/60th of a second to let in more light and over-expose the image. Aperture: f/4, Shutter Speed: 1/60, ISO: 400.
For image #3 I left shutter speed and ISO alone, but opened up the aperture to let in more light. Aperture: f/2.8, Shutter Speed: 1/125, ISO: 400.
For the last image, I increased the ISO but left the aperture and shutter speed alone. Aperture: f/4, Shutter Speed: 1/125, ISO: 800.
This not only illustrates the compensation required to correctly expose a white background, it also shows you that you can adjust ANY one of the three settings of aperture, shutter speed and ISO, and get very similar results.
Cameras and Accessories
Top Rated Digital SLR CameraI recently re-did my survey of online user reviews of digital SLR cameras in order to find the top rated digital SLR.
In the end, it turned out to be a tie, and the results may not be exactly what you'd expect.
Find out more about the top rated digital SLR cameras.
LinksThe following collection of links will help to keep you posted about what's new at the Guide and in the world of digital SLR cameras.
Recent Updates to the Digital SLR GuideSince I've been busy with the new baby in the house, I haven't had a lot of time to write new content. I've been spending a lot of time updating older pages to make sure the information on them is current.
Other Great Photography Sites
In ConclusionThat's all I've got for June - I'm going to go take a much-needed nap now.
Thanks for reading and happy picture-taking!
--Chris Roberts, Your Digital SLR Guide
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