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DSLR Guide News, October 2006 - How Fear Can Improve Your Photos
October 31, 2006
How Fear Can Improve Your Photos
Table of ContentsIntro - Photography and Fear
Digital SLR Questionnaire
SLR Q and A - What Does f/3.5-5.6 Mean?
Photo Recipe - Playing With Color
The Gear - Break out the 10 megapixels
Recent Updates - What's new at the Guide
SLR E-course - 5 online SLR lessons
Learn More - Digital SLR Resources
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IntroductionI spent three wonderful days up in Yosemite last week, and learned yet another valuable lesson about how to improve the photos that I take.
I can sum it up in one word: fear.
Yes, you wouldn't think that fear and photography would go hand-in-hand, but apparently they do. Let me elaborate a bit.
When you're in your photography comfort zone, you don't tend to take as many photos that are really interesting to look at. I'm not saying that all these photos will be awful, I'm just pointing out that they'll tend to look like a lot of other photos that you've taken and hence won't stand out from the crowd.
It makes perfect sense why you want to stay in your comfort zone: at least this way you can be sure that you'll get SOME kind of picture.
Here's an example: you're standing on the white sand beach of some tropical island watching the sun set as the palms sway gently in an offshore breeze. You decide that you'd like to capture this moment with your digital SLR.
You now have two options:
That second option doesn't sound as appealing does it? It becomes even less so when you realize that you have found a moment where the quality of light is fantastic, but you know for sure that you don't have long to take the photo (that sun is setting pretty fast).
Faced with these circumstances, many of us choose option number one.
But on my recent trip to Yosemite, I decided that I would try out number 2 for a change. Guess what? This is where the fear comes in.
The moment that I started making adjustments to my camera settings I immediately began to worry that some of the photos I was taking would not turn out. What if the color was way off? What if the photo was wildly over-exposed? What if I missed a key opportunity to photograph a deer since I was busy making adjustments to my camera settings?
Worry, doubt and the fear of making a really bad mistake - they don't seem like qualities that make for good pictures.
But here's the trick: if I hadn't have pushed the envelope a bit and experimented outside of my comfort zone, there is NO WAY that I would have gotten some of the photos that I wound up with. In many cases, I was adjusting no less than three different camera settings like ISO, white balance and color saturation.
As the light and my subject changed, I had to figure out how to change these settings accordingly each time to get the photo that I was hoping for.
The bad news is that I completely butchered several shots that probably would have turned out fairly nice. The good news is that as time went on I became more and more comfortable with the settings I was adjusting and my fear went away. The even better news is that I captured some photos during that time that I really enjoy and are a cut above the photos that I typically take.
The moral of this tale? Sometimes it's important to get outside your comfort zone when taking photos with your digital SLR and see where the fear leads you.
Digital SLR QuestionnaireI would love to know more about the readers of this newsletter: what you're interested in, what you'd like to know more about, and whether or not the information I present is too simplified or just the way you like it.
In the spirit of learning more about you and your digital SLR needs, I've put together a BRIEF questionnaire.
Let me answer some questions for you:
The answers that you provide to the questions will help me immensly. I am trying to get a better idea of the population of people who read this newsletter and the type of information you are trying to learn. The more people that respond, the more I will know, and the more I can tailor the newsletter toward the needs of the majority.
Example: if I find out that 90% of you don't own a digital SLR yet, I will spend more of this newsletter on topics that will help digital SLR buyers rather than owners (I try to split it about 50-50 right now).
I encourage you to take the 5 minutes (or less) that it will take to fill this out - thanks in advance!
Digital SLR Q&AQuestion: Why Do Lenses Have Numbers Like f/3.5-5.6?
The SMALLER the number, the WIDER the aperture. For example, f/1.8 is wider than f/2.8 which is wider than f/5.6. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the lens aperture can be narrowed down to f/16 or f/22.
This brings us to sub-question number one: why are only small numbers marked on the lens, rather the entire aperture range?
The markings that you see on any digital SLR lens describe a limit: the MAXIMUM aperture of the lens. Lenses are limited by how WIDE they can open up - some open wider than others. Lenses are not limited by how narrow they can become: virtually every lens out there can be set to a narrow aperture of f/22 (some even go to f/32). Since the limit only exists on how WIDE the lens can open, these are the f-stop numbers that appear on the lens.
In this case, if you're comparing a 50mm f/1.4 lens to a 50mm f/1.8 lens, the only difference between the two is that the f/1.4 lens opens wider and lets in more light.
Lenses with wider maximum apertures are better for hand-held low-light photography (indoors, for example) because you need plenty of light to ensure that all your photos don't turn out blurry.
Key Point #1: Apertures marked on lenses indicate the WIDEST the lens can open.
Now we come to a second sub-question: why do some lenses have different maximum apertures like f/3.5-5.6?
The reason for this is because with many zoom lenses the aperture NARROWS as the lens gets longer (when you zoom in closer to your subject). In this case, a zoom lens does not have a CONSTANT maximum aperture, which is why there are two different numbers.
Let's say you have an 18-55mm zoom lens with two maximum aperture numbers: f/3.5-5.6. This means that at 18mm (wide angle) the maximum aperture of the lens is f/3.5, but when you zoom in to 55mm (increasing the length of the lens) the maximum aperture narrows to f/5.6. Somewhere in the middle of this range (say 30mm) the maximum aperture will be somwhere around f/4.5.
Key Point #2: Zoom lenses have different maximum apertures at different lengths.
Not all zooms are created equal, and there are a select few where the maximum aperture does NOT change as you zoom. These lenses are described as having "constant maxium aperture". You can immediately tell these zoom lenses apart from the others because they only have one aperture number. If you see a zoom lens that looks like this - 28-135mm f/4 - it means that the lens has a constant maximum aperture of f/4 no matter how much you zoom.
Photo RecipeA photo recipe is a simple way of breaking down a photography technique.
Please send in your ideas for photo recipes! I'll include your requests in a future issue of the newsletter.
October Photo Recipe - Playing With Color
Every digital SLR out there lets you make adjustments to the white balance. In a nutshell, white balance allows you to correct the colors in your photo under different lighting conditions: for example, a standard household lightbulb does not emit the same color light as the sun (you can't tell this with your eyes easily because they adjust). If you've ever seen photos that look sickly green that's a white balance problem due to fluorescent light and any photo that looks orange is the result of incorrect white balance with tungsten light (the every-day light bulb).
Cameras typically have the following white balance settings: AUTO, Daylight, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Shade, Cloudy, Flash and Custom.
Many digital SLRs also have advanced color modes where you can select how the camera captures color based on the scene you are photographing. Some standard color modes include: Natural, Vivid, Portrait, Landscape, Night and Soft.
The goal of this photo recipe is to fiddle around with these two settings to see what types of results you can get.
STEP 1 - Shoot in AUTO mode
Take a variety of photos under different lighting conditions.
The easiest experiment is to find two different subjects close to each other where one is in sunlight and one is in shadow.
Example One (auto mode) - this photo in the shade is how the camera wanted to take it without me adjusting a thing.
STEP 2 - Play with color
Start with your subject in the shade. Review some of the shade photos that you just took in AUTO mode on the camera's LCD (instant feedback - one of the principal benefits of digital cameras). Notice how the camera reproduced the colors in AUTO mode.
First, adjust your white balance setting so that it is set to "Shade" and take a picture like this.
Next, adjust your color mode (if applicable - not all digital SLRs let you change this) to something that will give the colors in your photo a little more pop: a good setting for this is called "Vibrant". Take another photo with both this color setting and the "Shade" white balance.
Example One (adjusted color) - I set my white balance to "shade" and set the color mode to "vibrant". Ah ha! Now the green plants really come to life.
STEP 3 - Compare the Results
Why didn't the camera adjust the color settings correctly on its own? Digital SLRs are advanced electronic devices, but that doesn't mean that they always make the best aesthetic choices. That is why it is sometimes important for you to adjust camera settings on your own to get the best results.
Not sure how to adjust your camera settings for maximum gain? Take a look at my 5 online digital SLR lessons.
Digital SLR Gear6 megapixels? Fuggetaboutit.
The 10 megapixel race is well under way, and camera makers (with a few notable exceptions) do not appear to be looking back.
Technology moves on, and I suppose that the manufacturers just expect that as time goes on the price of storage media will go down (it typically does) so that even if you have to buy a 4GB card for your digital SLR it won't put a huge dent in your budget.
For anyone new to this newsletter, I am not a huge fan of the prevailing need to keep upping the number of megapixels on every camera that is released. After a certain point, having more megapixels does nothing for the image - it just lets you make larger prints. I won't go into the details here - if you'd like, read the September newsletter which is chock-full of reasons you may not really want a 10 megapixel digital SLR.
Now that I've gotten the editorializing out of the way, here's a roundup of all of the latest 10 megapixel digital SLR cameras. Some of these cameras have just been released, and some you'll have to wait for. Click the linked camera names for more in-depth guides.
Recent Updates to The GuideLife at the guide has been a scramble to keep up as of late. After all, there are over 5 manufacturers cranking out new camera models as fast as they can (all but one of the 10 megapixel digital SLR cameras were released this year) and just one of me!
The Canon Rebel xTi and the Pentax K100D are running neck and neck at the moment in terms of popularity and interest, so I'm not entirely sure which one will get a complete guide first. Regardless, it is my goal to take a closer look at both of these cameras by the end of the year.
If that seems like a terribly long time to you, realize that it takes me about a month to produce a complete digital SLR guide. Since I really only have two months left this year one will be devoted to the Canon and the other to the Pentax - we'll see how it goes!
I am also busily updating the pages of the site that allow you to compare cameras and am doing plenty of research on your behalf to find cameras that are small, light, inexpensive, fast and highly rated. The good news is that by the time the serious holiday shopping season rolls around, you should have plenty of information to work with when it comes to evaluating and comparing the latest digital SLR cameras.
Want instant updates about what I'm working on? Keep an eye on the Digital SLR Weblog.
SLR Guide E-CourseDon't miss great photo opportunties!
My 5 easy online lessons will teach you how to adjust your camera settings to get the most out of every shot you take. It's a lot easier to leverage all the features of your digital SLR than you might think.
Digital SLR Learning ResourcesEach 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).
September Resource: Fred Larson
This month's resource is a link to the photoblog of a photographer who works for a newspaper in the San Francisco Bay Area. For those not completely up on all of the latest tech jargon, a photoblog is a weblog that instead presents one photo per day.
Often the photo is presented without commentary, but in this case there are a lot of notes and additional information associated with each photo.
What insight does the commentary provide? It makes you realize that photos like the ones presented in this photoblog the result of A) Planning, B) Preparation and C) Persistence. For example, if you're not willing to stand around in a biting wind for 30 minutes waiting for the perfect shot, then you're probably not going to get it.
Fred Larson's Mystical Photography is definitely worth a look if you really want to know more about how pros get some of their amazing shots.
In ConclusionWell, we've just reached the one year anniversary of the Digital SLR newsletter!
For all of you who've been with it for a long time I'd like to say thanks for taking the time to read over the newsletter each month. I'm sure that you're quite busy (I know I am!) and that it's not always easy to find the time to read over someone's ramblings about digital SLR technology.
For all the newcomers to this newsletter - welcome!
I hope that you find it a valuable resource when it comes to learning about digital SLR cameras, lenses and accessories, and that you find it a useful and enjoyable read for many months to come.
If you have learned some valuable information from this newsletter, I encourage you to forward it to friends who are also trying to get a handle on the current state of digital SLR technology. I pack a lot of information into each newsletter, and there may be a tidbit there that saves them time, money, or both!
As always, thanks for reading - Happy Halloween - and happy picture taking!
--Chris Roberts, Your Digital SLR Guide
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