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DSLR Guide News - Looking Ahead to 2010
December 31, 2009
Minimalist FlashNow that the holidays are upon us, you're probably taking a lot more pictures with very dim available light.
Unless you'd like all of your family members to appear as blurs of color in your photos, you're going to have to add some artificial light to the scene.
The simple solution here is to pop up the flash that sits atop your digital SLR camera. The built-in flash on a DSLR is not only convenient, it's also quite easy to use: just activate it and fire away.
Unfortunately, the pop-up flash comes with a rather serious drawback: it makes most portrait subjects look pretty terrible. The light that comes out of your built-in flash is harsh and direct, which is why so many people get that deer-in-the-headlights look.
The unflattering light comes with another problem that everyone is all too familiar with: red eye. Gleaming red eyes are the result of a flash that is located too close to the camera lens. The light from the flash bounces off the back of your subject's eyeballs and reflects right back into the lens.
The good news for all you family holiday photographers is that if you're able to address the first problem - harsh light - you'll never see red eyes again.
So, what is the solution to harsh light? You have to make the light source bigger.
Increasing the size of a light source softens the light on your subject and creates a more appealing portrait, since you're not blasting the poor person with direct light.
There are two ways to increase the size of the built-in flash that's sitting atop your digital SLR:
FLASH WITH PAPER
A flash diffuser can be something as simple as a piece of typing paper. Just hold the typing paper in front of your camera's built-in flash. It may look ridiculous to your subjects, but the net result is a more flattering portrait.
The reason is that the light from the flash is not hitting your subject directly anymore. Instead, it's illuminating the paper, which in turn is throwing light onto your subject.
If you don't have any typing paper handy (or think that it will make you appear totally cheap to friends and family) then a mere $24.95 USD buys you a device called a Lightscoop.
FLASH WITH LIGHTSCOOP
The Lightscoop is pretty simple: it's just a mirror that sits in front of your built-in flash. When your flash goes off, the light from the flash is reflected straight up from the top of the camera.
This helps to diffuse the flash, but you need a bit more: you also need a reflective surface so that the light from the flash can bounce onto your subject. As reflective surfaces go, there's nothing better than a good old ceiling or wall.
Now every time you take a picture, the light from your flash shoots away from your camera and strikes the nearest large surface. This surface reflects the light back, evenly illuminating the subject - in fact, anyone viewing your photos should have a hard time telling that you used flash at all.
I mentioned it before, but it's worth noting again: only direct light causes red eye. If you are able to either diffuse OR reflect the light from your flash, you won't have any more photos where your party guests look possessed.
What's NewThere aren't too many updated pages to announce this month - and there's a good reason for that.
I am currently hard at work on a new series of digital SLR lessons. Several visitors to the site (and those who have gone through the beginner set of lessons) have requested lessons that offer more advanced techniques.
Others are also asking about how to get the most out of their flash units. The lessons that I am currently writing will provide this information, plus a whole lot more.
Since it takes me a great deal of time to put together a set of lessons that I feel is complete, I can't update the pages of the site as often as I'd like. Please be patient over the next couple of months as I work to finish the lessons.
I'm aiming to have them published and available around March of 2010 (but hopefully sooner if I can).
Quick Photo TipThis new section of the Digital SLR Guide newsletter will focus on one specific photographic tip.
Each month, I'll send out a request on the Digital SLR Guide's Facebook page for tip ideas - one suggestion will be selected for inclusion in the newsletter.
This month's tip - thanks to everyone who suggested ideas - is relevant: you've just torn away the wrapping paper and have a brand new shiny digital SLR sitting in your lap.
Where do you begin?
First things first: open the box and find the rechargeable battery and charger (provided this is how your camera is powered). Pop the battery into the charger and go plug it in somewhere right now.
It's best to get the battery up to a full charge before you start using your new camera. Since charging a Lithium Ion battery can take several hours, the sooner you get the battery charged the sooner you can take some shots.
With that out of the way, here's my next piece of advice: take the camera out of AUTO mode and switch over to P (Program) mode instead.
Program mode really is AUTO mode (the camera picks all the right settings for you) with one KEY difference: in Program mode, you can change the ISO setting and in AUTO mode you can't.
The ability to set the ISO number on the fly is one of the most powerful features on a digital SLR camera - but you won't ever get to play with it if the camera's always in AUTO mode.
Take a look at your camera's manual to see how to change the ISO setting and practice a bit changing this setting.
Why is the ISO setting so powerful? It lets your camera see in the dark - sort of. Essentially, increasing the ISO number (from a value of 100 to 1600 or higher) makes your camera's sensor absorb light faster.
This allows you to shoot in dim available light without ever having to use your flash. This shot of a vintage car inside a museum - captured at ISO 3200 - is a good example of this (the only light in this image comes from the overhead museum lights).
While most useful when you're taking pictures indoors, high ISO settings also come in handy when you take photos outside on very overcast days, especially if you're taking pictures of fast-moving subjects.
If you want to capture a shot of your kids playing in the snow when there's not a bit of sun in sight, you're going to need to boost the ISO to 400 or 800 if you want to ensure that your shots don't all turn out blurry.
But remember - you can't change ISO in AUTO. So set your camera to P, and then have some fun taking photos!
For more information on the ISO setting, read the following:
Believe it or not, this picture of my son was taken in my garage.
I've been experimenting with artificial light lately and this is one of a series of test shots that I took to evaluate my lighting setup.
The backdrop is quite fancy - a white painter's drop cloth, the cheap kind that you can buy from just about any hardware store.
The reason that it appears pure white in this image is because there is one flash behind the drop cloth pointing in the direction of the camera. Since the drop cloth is not thick and lets some light through, this part of the photo is so over-exposed that it appears white.
To set up this shot, I tacked up the drop cloth up in our garage, then set up the lights around it (I used 3 for this image). There is one flash to the left of the camera, one to the right, and the one positioned behind the drop cloth.
My son was patient enough as I re-arranged the lights and adjusted their placement, but eventually he told me that he was bored and was going to "take a nap".
Thankfully, the lights were all set up at that moment and I was able to grab this one shot before he really decided he was done and ran off to play.
Other Photography Sites
Great Photo Blogs
Recommended Digital SLR Retailers(These are the three online stores that I use to purchase all of my digital SLR photography gear)
In Conclusion2009 was a very busy year here at the Digital SLR Guide, with the release of 15 new digital SLR cameras and the introduction of a brand new breed of camera: the micro 4/3rds (offered by Olympus and Panasonic).
Staying on top of it all was challenging, and I'll admit that even I am starting to feel rather overwhelmed by the sheer number of different camera options available today.
So - if you're looking for a new camera and are getting a headache trying to compare them all - you're not alone.
In 2010, the Digital SLR Guide will continue to provide the latest information about these unique cameras and I'll continue to post photography tips to help you get the most out of your DSLR.
Until then, happy picture taking!
--Chris Roberts, Your Digital SLR Guide
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