Light is Everything!

Archive for January, 2011


Well, we had our very first Photography Club meeting. It was really exciting! The roads however put a kibosh on the number of people who could attend the event. Nothing like a nice bunch of roads turning into hockey rinks to make people stay home. Curses! Oh well, we did have a good group of seven people take in the first meeting and we got the name of the club solidified as well as the meeting dates. The last friday of the month at 7PM at St. Peter Lutheran Church. We also did some brainstorming of what we would like to see in a club. None of the people in attendance had ever been part of a photography club before, so we are all blazing a new trail. We also hammered out our photo assignments for the year. Each assignment will be due for the next meeting and we will share our 3 best shots.

I love what a photography club can offer to everyone at all levels of experience. We have primarily lots of beginners to the DSLR world which is great. But even the more experienced people can learn lots as well. For instance, one of the girls had on her camera strap the eye piece cover that goes over the camera when taking a landscape shot or any other picture where your face isn’t up to the viewfinder. I always had mine in the bottom of my camera bag because you can lose it so easily. But I learned that it actually clips onto your strap so it’s handy when you need it. Cool! 🙂 Who knew?!  (OK, OK, so I’m a moron.) 😉 But I’m thankful for the photography club because I have much to learn!

I’m also putting together a beginners guide to cameras and photography. There will be a print edition as well as a digital slide show I will try to put voice recordings with.  Hopefully it will be of some use to somebody sometime. I’m excited that the club has finally all come together and the pieces have fallen into place. 


Photography Club

Well, I’m totally stoked! Tonight we are having the very first get together of the Souris Valley Photography Club! It’s a Facebook club that I started 2 years ago to see if there was any interest in starting a photography club down here in the south east corner. Several people signed up and tonight we are having our meet & greet to discuss and brainstorm some possibilities for the club. My chief concern is that I have never been part of a photography club before, so I’m blazing a new trail for myself and others. But we have a ton of very talented photographers all over the place here, so I’m hopeful this will really take off.

My current vision is to have a monthly get together where a topic would be presented, a time of discussion & shop talk, photo sharing and then have an assignment for next time, whether it be black & white photos, sunsets, wildlife, portraits, the color purple, whatever. I’m excited also to organize a couple of photo walks in the spring and fall to possibly capture the small-town urban atmosphere or the rural life in the countryside. The opportunities here really are endless.

So, it’s exciting! I’m pumped up and I hope there’s a good turn out. Everyone is always learning all the time and I think a local photography club can be a way of helping everyone involved take better photographs and have fun doing it!


Souris Valley Photography Club

The inaugural get together will take place on Friday January 28th at 7PM at St. Peter Lutheran Church in Oxbow (N 49° 13.606 W 102° 10.393). The purpose is to do a bit of a meet and greet, and brainstorm some possibilities for the club. Come on out and have some refreshments and a good time!

Speedy Creek

It’s the deepest part of January on the prairies. Usually this means that everything is frozen solid: vehicles, the road, lakes, rivers, photographers, etc. 😉 But this year in our neck of the woods, there is so much water flowing from the Dam that the river hasn’t froze over – which is a rarity to say the least! Much to the chagrin of local ice fishermen who can’t really get on the weak ice, it does provide a chance for some slow shutter speed river photography.

We call it “shutter speed” but really, it’s a unit of time. The same way a lightyear is a unit of distance, not time. Shutter speed is the time duration that light is allowed to come through the lens and light up either the film or the digital censor. The longer this time period takes, we call it a “slow shutter speed.”  And oppositely, the shorter this time period takes, we call it a “fast shutter speed” – but really, it’s more helpful to think in terms of time and not velocity. If I want to stop a hummingbird’s wings, I need a fast shutter or, a quick time – only like 1/8000 of a second! But to slow down running water to make it look really silky and creamy we need a longer time (a slower shutter speed) – a full second or more is nice!

For this shot, I had a bit of a gong show. I went yesterday when it finally warmed up a bit and we had lots of light. Turns out it was too much light for what I wanted to do. I wanted a full second of exposure time, but I couldn’t get it. I had my camera setup on a tripod at 16mm, ISO 100 and f/22 (smallest aperture I could get at 16mm). And the problem? The longest duration I could get my shutter at was .5 seconds. Immediately you can see the problem this creates. There is just too much light. The water is blurred (somewhat) but the snow and sky and everything else is completely blown out making it look like… well, crap.

.5 seconds = blow out!

So, what to do? My aperture was constricted as much as I could get it, the ISO was in the toilet and I couldn’t get the exposure. There were 3 options to make this shot work and only 1 was available to me at the time.

Option 1: Neutral Density Filter. If I had one of these for my lens, I could have “dialled in more darkness” allowing me to dump down even four more stops of light! This would have allowed for a longer shutter time and made the scene have an even more silky look in the water. Alas, I don’t have an ND filter, so option 1 is out of reach.

Option 2: Come back later. I could have waited until the sun was close to setting and the place where I was at to go blue from lack of light. This probably would have allowed me to get down a few more stops of light, but I also would have lost the light in the over all scene. Plus I had to parent, so option 2 didn’t work.

Option 3: HDR. This was the only option I had to try to get the shot I wanted. Longer shutter time for blurry water, yet shorter shutter time for proper exposure of the overall scene. This option was the only one I had available. And it worked out OK.

Speedy Creek . . . in January! HDR

I didn’t really intend to make an HDR image, but it was the only way to control/manipulate/tame the light I had to work with. I took a range of exposures (all at f/22) from .5 seconds up to 1/15 of a second. The last image at 1/15 had a nice histogram with no clipping whereas the .5 histogram looked like an L had fallen on it’s back! I probably could have gone down one more stop to get some more of the darker areas. But that’s why there’s next time. 😉


My Grandma has, over the last few years, taken up painting. She likes to paint pictures of scenery and fine art. As such, she often uses source photos from which to paint. I was honoured that she used a couple of my HDR winter landscape shots and painted some really nice pictures! I guess I’m more than a little bias though – they are my pictures & she is my grandma. 🙂 So, I’m not the most objective judge in the universe! Sue me! 😉  It’s always nice to be honoured, whether it’s the National Geographic or Grandma’s painting studio – you be the judge of which one means more.

Grandma's Painting of my HDR Landscape

Snow Fire

Twice a day, every day, God blesses us with “Golden Light” – the light at sunrise and the light at sunset. It is warm and beautiful, especially in winter time! It can add a lot of pizzazz to landscape shots. Last night we had a clear sky so the sun was shining in all of its glory. I looked off my back porch and saw a photo – back lit blowing snow at evening golden light. The snow looked as if it was a prairie fire blazing out of control! I slammed my 70-300mm into f/16 and underexposed 1/3-2/3 to really saturate the colors. Also, the extreme contrast in lights and darks would have fooled the matrix meter so I spot metered the burning ridge to nail the exposure. I was tickled to see the results in the view finder and even more tickled after I tweaked the shots in post. Gotta love golden light! 🙂

ISO 100 f/16 1/30 -0.33ev 300mm

ISO 100 f/16 1/120 -0.67ev 300mm

ISO 100 f/16 1/100 -0.67ev 300mm

ISO 100 f/16 1/200 -0.67ev 210mm

Nice Glass!

Ever since we bought the all new AppleTV, we’ve been watching a lot of YouTube videos. Naturally, I searched photography and found zillions of videos and channels dedicated to it. I have posted the links to some of the better known photography channels on the sidebar of my blog.

One of the channels that I find totally hilarious (in a dry British/Chinese kind of way), is DigitalRevCom. They do all kinds of crazy videos and more serious camera/lens reviews. It’s a lot of fun! One of their videos that I watched last night had to do with a comparison of camera bodies and lenses. What’s better? A pro camera body with crappy glass or a cheap camera body with awesome glass?!  I’d highly recommend you watch the video to find out!

Or, I’ll just tell you the right answer. 😉 It’s always glass. ALWAYS. Lenses are always a better investment because you have them for years whereas bodies change all the time. Most people get sucked into the “bigger mega pixel count” = better game. It’s simply not the case. In fact, one theory I heard recently is that the more megapixels you have the more chance there is for blurry images because the slightest of movement can be captured by the higher/finer megapixels. It could make for crisper shots in good light, but in poor light, it might actually make the shot worse – or at the very least, require the *need* for faster glass. Anyways, it’s an interesting idea. And, the video is great. Check em’ out!!


Everyone is naturally afraid of M (Manual Mode). Why? Because it is intimidating as all get out to have to “do the math” that your camera’s computer normally does for you. But, I have found that finally breaking the threshold and shooting manual can be quite exciting and a great way to learn about nailing proper exposures.

There is somewhat of a dance that goes on between “the trinity” of exposure. ISO + F Stop + Shutter Speed. These three variables interact making the camera produce an image. Helping know this quasi-technical information has helped me to FINALLY grasp why my images were sometimes blurry when I shot my 50mm prime handheld.

The handiest thing in the world is the light meter in your camera. It helps you know where your image is going to come out – is it too dark (under exposed) or is it too light (over exposed) or, is it like baby-bear’s bed – just right? 😉 When the balance between ISO, F Stop & Shutter Speed is reached, the meter reads 0. You know that your exposure is where it should be for a “properly” exposed image.

I was trying this out the other day shooting some indoor natural light candid shots with my 50mm prime lens. I had set my F Stop at 6.3 and my Shutter Speed at 1/30. The light meter was bang on for a proper exposure. Click, Click, Click! When I looked at the image, it was blurry. Huh. Why?? The meter was balanced. But the Shutter Speed was too slow to produce a sharp image (hand held with no VR). Aperture Priority mode also failed me, even though it bumped the shutter up to 1/60 – it still wasn’t enough to make the shot happen due to camera shake/photographer unsteadiness.

Behold! The handheld rule! This finally made sense for me when I started shooting in M and paying attention to my meter. The rule of thumb for handheld is that your shutter speed must be *AT LEAST* 1/focal length of your lens. Which on a 50mm would be at least 1/50. But, there is one other factor to figure in on DX bodies – a cropped sensor. On Nikon, you need to times your focal length by 1.5 to figure this out. 50mm becomes 75mm! So, you need a shutter speed of at least 1/80 to make the shot sharp. A 300mm on a DX body, is 450mm, so you’d need 1/500 to get a sharp exposure. Tripods & VR change all this, but for photographers shooting handheld shots in natural light, this rule is a must to follow. When I cranked my shutter speed up to 1/100 and altered my F Stop to give me a balanced exposure, viola! Sharp, properly exposed images were the result.

Normally, I shoot in A mode and let the camera do the math. But every once in a while, it’s nice to grab the bull by the horns and jump into M. Trust your meter and the handheld rule of thumb and you’ll be well on your way to being an exposure ninja. 😉

PS: if you want to visualize “the dance” check out this website and experiment with shutter speeds and F stops

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The greatest challenge I have in photography is covetousness. I’m talking about photography equipment here – drooling over newer, faster, crisper glass from Nikkor. 🙂 We all know that the paintbrush didn’t make Picasso, but I’m sure it didn’t really hurt things either!

50mm f/1.4G

One of my all time favourite lenses is my nifty-fifty.  AF 50mm f1.8. I have used that lens to take literally thousands of shots across three camera bodies (D40, D80 and now my D300s). I love it! It’s fast. It’s sharp. It’s crisp. It’s cheap! That is, it’s inexpensive.  However, my covetous eye has spied the newer 50mm f1.4G – it’s designed for FX bodies, which someday I hopefully will have. But a 50mm on a DX body gives you a nearly perfect portraiture lens at 75mm. And f1.4 is pure awesome. So, I now I am having crazy thoughts that I should have it. Ah, but life is full of small children for us at the moment who need food, clothes and diapers and other miscellany.

Life has a way of getting in the way of Photography budgets! 😉

If I could assemble an “essentials” list of Nikkors, this is what I would have in my bag:

AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4G – ideal portrait lens on a DX body

AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED – HAVE IT! YAY! 😀 Super fun Macro & telephoto portrait lens

AF-S NIKKOR 300mm f/2.8 ED VR II – perfect for wildlife, especially with a teleconverter

AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f2.8G ED – Incredible wide angle lens for landscapes

AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II – Awesome for portraits and even wildlife with a teleconverter

Estimated cost: just shy of $9000.00 CDN . . . It never hurts to dream! 😉

Light is Everything

I am always fascinated at the difference good lighting makes to an image. Literally, light is everything in photography. My little girl turned 3 and we had a toddler party with lots of fun had  by all. We were in our church hall because it’s winter and it lets the kids rip and tear in a bigger environment. However, to take pictures, you almost have to make pictures! By that I mean, the lighting sucks in church fellowship halls! No windows. Tall walls with old florescent lighting. Flat. Boring. Predictable. I did try to take some natural light shots, and they worked out OK. I had to crank my ISO to get them, which resulted in noisy images. But Nik’s Dfine 2.0 software comes to the rescue yet again.

There are two images I want to contrast in this blog entry to show that light is everything.


Cute! But Flat & Boring

In this first image, I used my on camera flash to light up the scene. It result is, we can see everyone. The light is flat and boring. It gives the over all feel of the shot an amateurish, point and shoot, grandma photo. The shadows are harsh and the lighting is uninspiring.

Cute AND Dramatic & Exciting!

Now in this shot, something exciting is happening! Not only is Phoebe 3, but she’s playing pin the tail on the donkey AND she is well lit. Beside me to my left is a huge white cupboard made of melamine. The material is flat and quasi-glossy. By pointing the head of my flash into the cupboard, I made my small speed light into a huge room light! It creates a nice even cast of light with soft shadows and lots of really appealing fall off. The over all image is more appealing and it draws the viewer into the experience of the photo. By looking for ways to do creative lighting in junk conditions, you can make photos instead of just taking them.  As a point of interest, this photo wasn’t edited in software for the lighting – it’s just the bounce flash creating the loveliness (and of course my daughter who is 3 years of lovely). 🙂

Here’s a slideshow of the pics from the event that I took. In here are examples of amateurish crappy lighting and some better examples of more interesting lighting. The world is a very fun place when you are three!

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Doh! HDR Nightmare!

On the way home today I stopped to do a sunset HDR setup. Earlier in the day I had cleaned up my camera, getting rid of dust and crap that collects on the mirror. Fortunately my D300s has a sweet sensor cleaning option that I use frequently. But as any photographer knows, dust in your camera will be part of your life. Nothing shows how absolutely filthy your equipment is like doing sunset shots where lens is pointed directly into the sun. Every single piece of stuff shows up. What makes it even more pronounced is when you do an HDR mash up. As I did one tonight, I had an absolute nightmare on my hands. There were 10,000 dust spots that I had to deal with in post – sucks! In HDR, they are even more pronounced because the structures and tones of the image usually get pushed around, drawing more attention to little black dust marks.

Curses! Dust Spots Ahoy!

It’s nasty to try and fix too. I use Aperture 3 and was able to get rid of them with the clone and repair tool but it took forever and it still didn’t come out as nice as I would have preferred. Trying to fix structure in clouds is liking trying to catch rain water in a strainer! ;)It’s a good lesson though in keeping your camera equipment clean – especially your lenses and the mirror. I think the main culprit of this screw up was the lens itself. It was very dusty and had junk on both the front and rear elements. As I was waiting for the HDR to render, I grabbed my cleaning setup and went crazy on my lenses. I have a really handy spin brush from visible dust which works really good, but I also stumbled across a good cleaning video on YouTube that is worth a view.

The old adage “cleanliness is next to Godliness” can’t ever be more true when it comes to photography – especially at small apertures at sunset!


Chased by the Light

Chased by the Light is a really fascinating documentary story about world famous National Geographic photographer Jim Brandenburg. After experiencing a period of burn out from the fast paced, demanding world of magazine shooting, Brandenburg sought to be rejuvenated in photography.  To re-inspire himself, he gave himself an assignment: to capture 1 image per day for 90 days. I’m not talking shooting 57 images and picking the best one. His self-assigned task was to shoot one frame per day – one picture and one picture only.

Single Shot

The challenge was tremendous on two fronts. Firstly, it had to be a National Geographic quality picture of awesome content. The substance and essence of the photo had to be there. And secondly, he had to have all the technical stuff figured out precisely *before* he took the shot to ensure a proper exposure. Normally we bang off a series of shots and pick the best one or make adjustments. But Jim’s shots had to be bang on each and every time. The movie compares it to stepping up to bat and hitting a grandslam from a single pitch, 90 days in a row!

The film was really excellent for helping us enter Brandenburg’s world and immersing ourselves in his photos and experience. And really, it’s the only way he could get the shots he got. He was literally “in the picture,” transcending the image. Most photographers, especially wildlife guys, go into an area from the outside and try to get shots. But Jim’s photos come from within North Woods area. He lives among his subjects and you can tell by the quality and intimacy of his shots. The film has an almost Eastern spirituality about the “essence” of photography and the intuition/awareness that makes “the shot” happen.

The video is filled with his own personal reflections and revelations about having to choose between photo opportunities. A beautiful rainbow or a raven feather on a rock. Otters playing in a lake or long-shadow water grass. It must have been a tremendous challenge but also very rewarding at the same time.

I was inspired as I watched it and I highly recommend the video to anyone who likes outdoor/nature/wildlife photography, but also for anyone who has a passion for what photography can be when one is chased by the light.

Black and White (mostly)

I love black and white portraits. There is something timelessly classic about the over all look and feel of black and white. It always seems like a throw back though, when you think of all those years people only had black and white TVs – maybe they’d think we were nuts for going back to white and black after we finally had beautiful rich color to display! Or, maybe not. Like I said, it’s so timeless. I tried really hard to do a black and white experiment shoot with the kids the other day. Mostly, I was able to do it,  but a few shots of color made it in. I can’t help myself!! 🙂 I was also trying to put my new Silver Efex Pro plugin to work in Aperture. It’s a fantastic little app, just like all of Nik’s plugins.

We were privileged to get to know Tara Morris, a Penticton, BC photographer who shoots exclusively in black and white. Her work is amazing and very inspirational. I highly recommend you check out her stuff.

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Finding the Sweet Spot!

A while ago my dad bought some lenses off another photographer. On the lenses was a small piece of tape that had various f stop numbers written on them. I wondered about what it all meant. Dad graciously enlightened me. The f stops written on the tape were the apertures that the particular lens was sharpest at. Essentially, they were where the lens was at its best performance for sharpness and optimal image quality.

This can be referred to as “lens tuning” or “lens diagnostics” – whatever you want to call it, its the process of finding out where your lens shoots the sharpest images at. I went digging around the internet and came across some really great videos on how to sharpness test your lens. The people who provided the videos also provided a comprehensive list of Nikkor and Zeiss lens sharpness. When I tried their techniques in the video I came up with the same results they did and they were startling!

Part 1

Part 2

If you want to try this, watch the videos and follow them exactly.

I tried three of my lenses in these diagnostics: my “nifty-fifty” 50mm AF f1.8, my 105mm AF-S VR Macro and my 16-85mm AF-S VR zoom lens. The primes were quicker to test because you just sail through the f stops shooting at various apertures. But with the zoom lens, you have to do it at various focal lengths which took a little longer.

Anyways, we will look at the findings of my favorite lens for portraits, my trusty 50mm. In the past, I’ve almost always shot it at f1.8. Why? Because it can shoot f1.8!! It can open up super wide in junk light, making shots possible you might not have otherwise got. But, after doing this sharpness test today, I’m rethinking some things. According to the sharpness chart, the optimal apertures for this lens are:

DX: F/4.0, F/5.6, and F/8.0 (For FX & Film:F/4.0, F/5.6, F/8.0, F/11.0, & F/16.0)

When I compare my test images at f1.8 and 7.1 the difference in sharpness is truly incredible. The 7.1 image is far sharper.

50mm test image

Click to See Larger

Also, for the 105mm Macro at f2.8 and f8, the difference is wild. It confirms the chart which says DX (normal use/non 1:1 close up): F/4.0, F/5.6, and F/8.0 are sharpest.

105mm test image

Click to See Larger

And finally, for my 16-85 zoom, the chart’s findings were: DX: 24mm-50mm at F/8.0.

Best part of the focal range


Which tells you that the sweet spot of this zoom is f8 in that range. I included a test shot of the 16-85 at 85mm f8 vs f32 for comparison. It’s striking!

16-85 test image

Click to see larger

What all this nerdy stuff tells us is two fold. 1) It can confirm for you that the lens you have is accurate and not a dud. If in your comparisons, you see soft images where they should be sharp, you may have a bum lens. 2) It confirms in your own mind where your particular lens should be shot to be at it’s very best (sharpest). Of course lighting conditions, situations and artistic intent play into this, but it’s safe to say if you know where your lens shoots sharpest, you’re more likely to get consistently sharp images if you know the sweet spots.

HDR Nikon Quick Tip

I came across this really informative YouTube vid a little while back. It’s a super helpful tip for Nikon users who want to do HDR photography. It makes use of the Nikon camera option to do handsfree auto bracketing. You setup your camera to take the desired number of exposures, say, 5 each 1 stop apart. Then you compose your shot on your tripod, click this menu option and sit back as the camera goes hog wild automatically bracketing your set number of exposures! It’s really easy to do once you’ve got it setup. It works great in nearly all circumstances, unless you’ve got really weird conditions like trying to do an HDR exposure through a window in a really darkroom – you might need to under expose more images to get ensure  you’ve got all the shadows for example. But I’d say for the majority of HDR scenes, the 5 exposure setup with auto bracketing works slick! As always though, check your histograms to make sure you haven’t clipped your highlights and shadows.  Tony Sweet’s HDR DVD is really helpful too if you want so see HDR being done and processed. In the vid, Tony uses Photomatix. I think though, he will also enjoy Nik Software’s HDR app. It’s pure awesome with less hassle! 🙂

In the Print Shop

Over the Christmas holidays, I was able to check out my dad’s new setup. He does a lot of wildlife photography and has the need to do larger prints. He and a friend bought a gigantic Epson 9600 printer that is capable of printing stuff 44″ by 100 feet long (on a roll). We were experimenting with printing some 16×20 canvas which turned out well. We also threw together some home made frames. The way we made the  frames worked, but there is a much simpler way to make them using a really cool setup from Breathing Color Inc. There’s a YouTube vid here explaining the quick, easy process.

The beauty of that system is that it wraps the corners of the canvas into the frame mitre and makes for a much nicer end result. But we still had fun doing ours up “the old fashioned” way. 🙂

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