Light is Everything!

Archive for March, 2011

RAW Edit #19

I was watching the Fro Knows Photo show and they were editing a pretty nice landscape image and I thought I would give it a go. ย The original RAW file is submitted by a viewer and then Jared & Greg edit it on the show. Afterwards, the file is made available for other people to edit. Very cool stuff. There are lots of really neat examples of what people did to it on the website. Check it out! It’s a really fun interactive idea! ๐Ÿ™‚

Original Submitted RAW file

My RAW file Edit


Winter Whitetails

Last night the deer were making a steady stream through our backyard from the field and into the ravine next to our house. I grabbed my 70-300 and made a few shots.


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Down on the Farm!

I went out to my friend’s farm today trying to get some shots for our Photography Club assignment. The month of March was to be pictures of “pets.” So, I wanted to get some pet picks. What better place to nab pet pics than down on the farm?!

I was able to get some pretty cool action shots of the cats in the primordial battle with the dogs, fangs gnashing, claws swinging. Very cool stuff. Of course, I didn’t help matters by hissing and trying to get the dogs fired up. But hey, anything for a picture right? ๐Ÿ˜‰ All the shots in the slideshow are either from my 70-300 f4.5-5.6 or my 105mm f/2.8 Macro.

It was a beautiful day with all kinds of glorious light!

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The Kidz

Had some fun with the kids today. I was trying to get Ethan to walk at me with the wooden-toy knife because it made him look like Chucky (that freaky murdering doll from when? 1989?!?) ๐Ÿ˜‰ ย It’s always super fun taking candids of toddlers. I was in a Silver eFex Pro mood today too when I was doing some editing. I like the antique-eque looks and the high contrast stuff. The more indoor shots I take handheld with my 50mm, the more I’m getting used to higher noise. Earlier I would never have taken these kinds of shots because the noise was unacceptable to me. But, when you go high contrast or black and white, it adds a certain je ne sais quoi. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I don’t mind it anymore.


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Daffodils for Life

Our neighbour dropped by this week and brought with her some daffodils for life from the Cancer Society. They were just beginning to open up which presented some pretty fun macro shots. Such a beautiful sign of hope for everyone who is fighting cancer and who has conquered it. ๐Ÿ™‚

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Way Cool Trick

I discovered a way cool trick that helps out tremendously when shooting in Manual mode or even in Aperture mode. Basically it is using auto ISO to help you freeze action at a sports game or if you are shooting handheld in low-light conditions, it prevents the camera from dropping below a set shutter speed (AKA no more blurry images).

If you’re outside with lots of light, this doesn’t matter as much. But like I said, for inside/low light it’s the bomb. In the ISO sensitivity settings menu, you can control the maximum ISO you want, say 1600. And, you can control the minimum shutter speed you want too. So for sports with super fast action, lock this in at 1/1000 or if you’re shooting your 50mm prime on your DX body, lock it in at 1/100. That way you can adjust your aperture to whatever you want and the shutter speed never drops below your minimum amount. The camera automagically calculates the proper ISO to make your exposure work out.

ISO 280 50mm f/2.2 1/100

What’s way cool is that the camera won’t just jump full stops of ISO (like 200 to 400) it will do crazy stuff like ISO 273 – a setting you couldn’t choose to do even if you wanted to!

ISO 450 50mm f/2.5 1/100

Sharpness Confirmed 100% Crop

It’s really cool because when you move to different shooting spots or the natural light levels change all around you, you’re still nailing your exposures every time. Slick hey?

Credit for this trick goes to Scott Kelby and his Digital Photography Book 3 p.146.

When you Buy a New Lens

I got an email from B&H that my 50mm f/1.4 has been back ordered. Swell. Who knows how long it will take to arrive now. Bummer. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ But, it’s grounds for a blog post. ๐Ÿ™‚

What should you do when you buy a new lens?

First, take a look at it. Make sure that the mount on the back is OK, make sure the body of the lens isn’t cracked or damaged. Then inspect the front glass element for nicks or scratches. Take a flashlight/desk lamp and shine it through the lens while opening the aperture at the back to look for dirt or other big crap that might be inside the lens. Little dust isn’t such a big deal but huge chunks of stuff should be grounds for a return and exchange right away.

Most return policies on defective equipment are only at most 2 weeks from the company you bought it from so you want to do all these checks immediately so you can return any defective items to the seller rather than have to ship them off to Nikon or Canon.ย  B&H was really good to me in that I got the lens on a Saturday, did my checks, found it to be defective and got a return (RMA) form Sunday.

After you have done the initial physical checks, it’s time to do actual lens focus/sharpness tests. I have already posted some links to YouTube vids that explain this process. [But here they are again for fun: Part 1; Part 2] The tests should be done immediately as defects will be very apparent. Do the can test to check for sharpness and then do the ruler test to check to see if the autofocus is on or not. There are lens tolerances that can be adjusted for on higher end camera bodies through the AF Fine Tune settings that can actually pull the auto focus back into alignment with where it should be. But, as in my case, if the focus is way out, then the lens is crap and it must go back from whence it came.

Don’t be a naรฏve sucker face. Do your lens tests and make sure you are getting the quality that you are paying for. The manufacturing process is pretty darned awesome, but the world is a sinful place and errors do creep in. Now if they could only come up with solution for speeding up back orders… ๐Ÿ˜‰

Another useful link!

And one more!


I like panoramic images but until yesterday, I had never made one. I did a little googlin’ and found a really sweet YouTube video that explained the whole process. In the middle of a March snow storm, I went out on my back deck and took two pictures to try the panoramic process. You can do many more but I wanted to keep it simple to start out.

pano image 1

pano image 2

Another good tip (that I didn’t follow here) is to shoot panorama images vertically instead of horizontally. ย That way you have more breathing room in your shots for when you crop it later. I didn’t use a tripod as I had a very convenient deck railing to set the camera on – but had this been a serious pano, I would have certainly used the tripod.

After I had the .jpg files ready in camera, I brought them into GIMP (the free, open source version of Photoshop) and downloaded the “Pandora” script that makes this all possible. It did a really sweet job of setting it all up with about 20% overlap. I used the tree as my anchor point of both images and it lined up really well with minimal masking work. To me, the over all end product had to go black and white because it was another cursed, ugly, winter’s-never-gunna-end day.

click to embiggen

So there you go, my first ever panoramic image. Click on it to see the full sized end product (11MB file size). ย It turned out not too shabby. ๐Ÿ˜‰ If was to do it again, I would pick a nicer day with more sunshine. Winter is getting way too depressing. ๐Ÿ˜

Canon Conundrum

When eyeing up lenses across the two major competitors (Nikon & Canon) one notices something rather odd. A conundrum of sorts, really. It makes sense to me to have lens focal lengths stop and start in complimentary places. For example, the holy trinity of Nikon’s f/2.8 glass line up go from 14-24, 24-70, 70-200 meaning that you have the entire range of focal lengths from super wide to long telephoto all at the magical f/2.8 aperture. Makes sense.




What doesn’t make sense is Canon’s line up. There you have 16-35 and then 24-70 & 70-200 all L series at f/2.8. There’s a mismatch in the focal lengths from the Canon ultra wide zoom to the standard zoom. Does it really matter? No, not really. Am I nitpicking the competition? Maybe. ๐Ÿ˜‰ But the more curious thing is that Nikon ALSO makes a 16-35 (f/4) & a 17-35 (f/2.8). [FYI: Both Canon & Nikon have no VR/IS on these lenses].

Canon 16-35

Nikon 17-35

I got to thinkin’ – why do that? Why make 2 lenses that seemingly double up the focal lengths?? That also was a conundrum. I found a Flickr forum discussing the issue and the general consensus was that the 14-24 was a “fun” lens while the 17-35 was a “useful” lens.

14-24 "Fun" Image

17-35 "Useful" Image

Meaning, that because the 14-24 has an aspherical front element, you can “bend” your photos to have some really cool artistic lens distortion, even using it as a super wide portrait lens at concerts or what have you. The advantage of the 17-35 is that because it isn’t aspherical, you can use neutral density filters on it, making it perhaps more suitable for landscapes or photo journalism. The point was made that if you were photographing a large crowd of protestors with tear gas and rocks and debris flying everywhere, a lens filter would better protect your lens. You can’t outfit the 14-24 with lens filters because it is aspherical. So, the 17-35 has the advantage of adding armour in combat situations. ๐Ÿ™‚

Get Your Armour

But back to Canon being bizarre with their focal length mismatch in the lens line up, well, that’s just weird. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Go Nikon.

Gear Review: Pocket Rocket

I got a new toy! Get organized with Think Tank’s Pixel Pocket Rocket!!

5 Year Plan

Beginners to photography always ask what lenses should I buy (after they ask what camera should I buy). ๐Ÿ˜‰ It is good to have a plan in place so that you don’t spend money on junk glass that you will want to sell later on to buy better stuff. I came across the whole 5 year plan concept on one of Jared Polin’s YouTube blogs and I thought the idea was superb. Have a plan in place that allows you to save your money and upgrade to the very best of lenses and camera bodies over time. Quality is everything! And we pay dearly for it! But it is worth it. ๐Ÿ™‚

The plan I present here is for the beginner who has gotten into photography and really likes it & wants to take it to the next level – either hobby or business wise. As such, it starts out with the entry level camera body and kit lens. ย Then, it encourages buying professional level glass as the next step. Why? Because if you waste your money on junk glass now (because you can afford it), then as you get better and want to upgrade, you’ll have a bunch of junk glass nobody wants. But if you purchase higher end glass, you’ll be fine and dandy as sour candy for your entire photographic career. Camera bodies come and go but lenses last forever (well, a LOT longer than camera bodies!) ๐Ÿ˜‰ As for camera bodies, you want to jump from the entry level body to the top of the pro-sumer line, then to the top of the professional line. It’s not advisable to simply buy the next update of the entry level camera body you already have. They don’t change that much from update to update.

This proposed plan may take you shorter or longer to accomplish and that’s OK. It’s totally up to how aggressively you want to pursue photography and how much cash you have on hand to bank roll it.

Check out this plan for both Canon & Nikon lenses & bodies and let me know what you think. Lists of accessories are also included. The over arching goal is get good glass in your hands that covers the focal range from super wide to long telephoto. But it really depends on what kinds of photography you want to do. For example, if you really want to do Macro photography, that lens will be further ahead on your list than say a 300mm f/2.8 wildlife lens ๐Ÿ™‚

5 Year Plan.pdf

Expodisc Part 2

I was able to nab some sunlight expodisc shots today at lunch. We finally had a nice day! ๐Ÿ™‚

The full sun results were more subtle as to be expected.

I also did some test shots in the shade. Click the pictures to embiggen.

The shade white balance was more easily detected.

So there you have it, aside from a cloudy white balance test which will have to wait for another day. Unless you live in Arizona sunshine, the Expodisc pays off in nearly all white balance situations!

White Balance Woes? Hello Expodisc!!!

I never really paid much attention to white balance after I began shooting RAW because, let’s face it, you can make the WB anything you want when you process RAW files. That being said, when you watch videos done by professional photographers, they are the first to tell you to get as much of your image right in camera because it’s less time in front of the computer later on. Which is true. And, it helps you be a better photographer because you are learning the craft more when you do stuff properly in camera. White balance – as easy as it is to fix in Aperture & Lightroom – is one of those major image components that is better done right first.

Enter: the Expodisc. ย I first saw it on a Kelby Training vid with James Schmelzer. I thought, “Hey, he’s a pro, it must be good!” So I looked it up. Basically it’s a filter that goes over your lens and allows you to nab a custom white balance that is true to the actual scene. Other alternatives are 18% Grey Cards, colorite passports and such. But the Expodisc is easier & faster and more convenient – especially on Nikon cameras where getting a custom white balance is a 3 second operation (Canon takes 12 seconds). ๐Ÿ™‚

I decided to do some test shots with it last night after the sun had set. The trickiest white balances are always under man-made light, like say in a heinously lit small town hockey rink. But what about when you have a room with incandescent bulbs mixed with compact fluorescents? What do you set your WB to? The modes that the camera has are only generalizations after all, far from exact. These situations make the expodisc worth the cash.

The first situation I tried was a room lit by compact fluorescent bulbs. I setup the camera and my subjects, did a custom WB with the expodisc, then did an Auto WB and a Fluorescent WB shot. Take a look at the difference! Click on the photos for a larger view.

This next test shot is lit by old school fluorescent tube lighting – one of the worst to White Balance because they change color/temperature over time. Same format: Expodisc, Auto, Fluorescent.

Incandescent light source. Expodisc/Auto/Incandescent.

Only on-camera flash as the light source (notice the heinous shadow caused by the lens?) ๐Ÿ˜‰ Expodisc/Auto/Flash WB setting.

So, you be the judge. I think the difference is tremendous!

In summary, if you shoot only .JPG then the expodisc is a necessity that would never not be with me on any shoot ever. You can’t change the white balance as easily on a .JPG image so getting it right in camera is necessary for accurate color. If you shoot RAW, I also think it’s a useful tool, especially for tricky lighting scenarios and for portraits that you need to have the color bang on.

One final recommendation, they make expodiscs in many sizes for different lenses. I bought the 67mm size (because the majority of my lenses are 67mm) but it will also work on smaller lenses too, just by holding the expodisc on front of the lens. It won’t click into place like it does when it properly fits a lens, but it’s only there for 3 seconds (on Nikon) ๐Ÿ˜‰ anyways. So, buy the biggest one you can because it will also work on your smaller diameter lenses too – more bang for your buck! I bought mine at Don’s Photo in Regina.

Expodisc on lanyard with case

Side view

back view - looks like a pringles chip can lid


front view - looks like a fluorescent light cover

Making a Gallery Wrap

While at my parent’s place this past weekend, we printed up some canvas prints and finished them with a gallery wrap. I thought it might make a cool video so I recorded the process on my D300s. Making the gallery wrapped canvas photo is a ย really slick system that the guys got from breathing color and have since customized to work with their own local wood products for the frames. The wood used is White & Black poplar from Love, Saskatchewan.

The beauty of the breathing color system is that it places the folded corner of the canvas inside the mitred wood frame making it very sturdy. The canvas can’t pull out of the frame, making for an excellent end product. I hope you enjoy the video! ๐Ÿ™‚

PS: The prints featured in the video are being donated to the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation for fund raising purposes. My custom Pheasant print and the white tailed deer print will be available for auction at the Souris- Moose Creek Wildlife Federation’s 20th Annual Wildlife Fund Raiser and Auction in Oxbow, SK on April 9th. Show up and take one of the beautiful prints home with you! ๐Ÿ˜‰

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dot com baby, yeah!

Well, it’s official. I converted my wordpress blog into a dot com by registering the domain name through wordpress. I was always mystified by registering domain names and what have you, thinking there was mucho hassle and expense involved. In reality, there’s nothing to it! Everyone should have their own domain name. ๐Ÿ˜‰ ย I stuck with wordpress simply because I don’t intend to develop a professional website right now and wordpress blog capabilities are excellent, more than enough for my needs. Anyways, it’s true that you just feel cooler and more elite than you are when you have a dot com! heheehehhe… ๐Ÿ˜‰

I present thee with, my card

Frosty Morning Landscapes

When I woke up and looked out my window, the sun was just starting to peak over the horizon. There was scads of hoar frost everywhere and as the sun started to warm things up, I knew I had to go nab some shots! I drove south with my 16-85mm lens and went to work composing shots. There were pictures everywhere but I had a few spots in mind that I knew I had to stop at – mainly because I missed them last week when I was driving south without my camera! ๐Ÿ˜‰ I threw my tripod in as well just in case some HDR opportunities showed arose – which they did.


I came across this really cool shed and the way the light was, I couldn’t quite get the exposure with one shot. I wanted to keep the detail on the shed so I did a five shot bracket and stitched it together with HDR eFex Pro. It is some awesome software. I did one more HDR shot of the road that I was parked on which turned out ok too. I didn’t push either of the images too much, just enough to get the colors and the structure I like in the snow.

HDR Road

Anyways, it was a very pleasant morning of shooting landscapes, despite it being really cold and freezing my hands. Guess I need to buy some gloves! ๐Ÿ˜‰

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The Good Ol’ Hockey Game

Two hours in the rink goes super fast when you’re taking pics. Small town hockey arenas are cold and rustic. Small town hockey photos are even trickier! ๐Ÿ˜‰ The white balance is crazy. There are no port holes to shoot through so you have to shoot through glass or shoot over top of it. ISOs are ridiculously high. But it’s still fun. I went tonight and nabbed some shots of the Pee Wee game between the Oxbow Huskies & the Carlyle Cougars. I had to really process them in post to get a pleasing white balance (3362 in case you’re wondering) and then crank it up another notch with NIK’s Color eFex Pro (Pro Contrast). This seemed to keep the whites white and the blacks black. It works for me! 2.8 glass would have come in handy for tonight’s shoot but the old 70-300 VR & 16-85mm VR did an alright job. If you have to shoot through glass/plexiglass, the best thing you can do is take off your lens hood & your filter and put your camera lens right on the glass. It minimizes distortion! ๐Ÿ™‚

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Oh, my aching back-focus!

CRAP! ๐Ÿ˜ฆ My 50mm f/1.4G just arrived from B&H and I have to ship it back. ย As soon as I opened it I started doing some focus testing with it and realized it was back focusing. Essentially, when you put your focus point on the subject, the focus point wasn’t in focus. The stuff a couple inches from your focus point was in focus. Which is completely unacceptable to me. I called B&H and they sent me a RMA thing but I have to go to Bowbells to ship it. Bummer!!!

Anyways, its fodder for a blog post. ๐Ÿ˜‰

My D300s gives adjustment for fine tuning lenses in the menu system which is really nice. You can correct the focus somewhat and compensate for a lens that isn’t quite bang on. Then it saves the information and any time you attach that lens, the camera uses the information to correct the focus which is super handy. But testing for focus problems can be a bit of a bummer. Fortunately there is YouTube to the rescue. Consult these helpful vids if you expect you are experiencing back focusing or front focusing.

Back Focusing Sample Shots:

So there you go. Hopefully it won’t take 4 years to get a replacement and when it comes there will be no issues. Curses! Oh well. It builds character. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Shot at f/4 - focus is completely off. The whole face should be sharp at f/4

Nikon Lens Review!

One of the gaping holes on the Internet was a comparison of the 70-200 f/2.8 VR lens and the 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 VR lens. ย Fortunately, I was able to borrow the f/2.8 glass and compare it with my 70-300. And, I made a YouTube video of it to share the goodness. Both lenses are great, but they are definitely for different tasks. If I was a wedding ย or concert photographer in low lighting conditions, I’d want the f/2.8. But it is one heavy piece of glass and in my opinion isn’t as desirable as a walk-around street lens. Enter the 70-300. It’s waaay slower than the 70-200 (autofocus and aperture) but it’s lighter and more balanced on DX camera bodies. But alas, it sucks in low light, and the auto focus hunts around like a blind hyena. Anyways, here’s the video. ๐Ÿ™‚

Fro Knows Photo Jam!

We love the Fro! ๐Ÿ™‚ I watch his YouTube channel all the time. We got our groove on to his new theme song rap! Check it out! You can get your own free download of the .mp3!

Bokeh & Compression

Recently on an episode of Fro Knows Photo, I watched the Fro & Greg edit a RAW file of some girl posed in a sitting position on a concrete ledge with a forest type background. At the end of the show, they were critiquing the shot such that it had been taken with a 50mm f/1.8 Canon. The general gist of what was said was that the bokeh on the 50mm 1.8 was not as pleasing as it could have been had the portrait been taken with a 70-200mm f/2.8.

Now, I happen to love 50mm primes.ย They are almost the perfect portrait lens on crop censor cameras, producing a sweet 75mm on my D300s. ย In fact, my new 50mm f/1.4 G lens should be arriving any day now. So while I wait, I decided to borrow a 70-200 f/2.8 lens from Jocelyn, setup my own miniature wedding photo shoot for John & Marsha and do a “which has better bokeh” test. ๐Ÿ˜‰

There are two main things going on that we need to be aware of: Bokeh & Compression. Bokeh is the Japanese word for “stuff that is out of focus in a photo.” Compression is described as an effect produced by a long lens (longer than 35mm) that smooshes and flattens backgrounds. It gives the effect of even more buttery bokeh. There are some people who contest this as a myth though.

For simplicity’s sake, longer telephoto lenses *should* produce more pleasing bokeh because it is “compressed” in addition to being out of focus. This is where Greg was coming from on the Fro episode.ย  So, let’s check the results of my mini-field test and you can make up your own conclusions.

The situation was that John and Marsha surrounded by background and foreground elements (pineapple, spiderplant, gerbs and a happy face flower resting on two toddler chairs and a brick wall). This simulates a wedding couple in a park area with some trees & shrubs and thick forest behind them. The lenses used were Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 VR, 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VR, 105mm f/2.8 VR macro, and a 50mm f/1.8.ย  All the lenses were mounted on a D300s on a tripod using mirror lock up and a cable release with VR off. Light levels and ISO remained constant.ย  Distance was slightly changed to try and maintain similar perspective.

Here is a gallery of the results:

What do you think? Which lens has the most pleasing Bokeh? Which lens produces the most pleasing portrait? ๐Ÿ™‚



Frost on the Punkin . . .er, Window

Whilst enjoying my morning cup of coffee, I looked out and saw that it was another ridiculously cold prairie morning. It was -28ยบC raw temperature, and then with the wind it was actually -39ยบC which is insane. Why do we live here?! ๐Ÿ˜‰ Oh well, gotta take some pictures. I looked at our patio door, you know the old school, nasty, uninsulated, aluminum, gong show, resource wasting kind. It was nicely decorated with frost. I quickly ran and grabbed my D300s, my cable release, tripod and 105mm Macro VR lens. I set it up at 1:1 focusing and made some compositions.

I just love Macro! There is so much going on all around us. If we would only open our eyes to see that we are surrounded by zillions of photos all the time! ๐Ÿ™‚

One other insight from the photo shoot this morning. Camera lenses suffer from two main pitfalls. Chromatic Aberration at really low f stops and Lens Diffraction at really high f stops. All lenses suffer from these things, some are better than others. I took two photo crops to illustrate Lens Diffraction (the image gets tooooo sharp and becomes blurry) ย as a comparison at f/18 and f/51.

Major Diffraction at f/51

Nice and Sharp at f/18

This is where knowing your lens and doing your own lens sharpness testing is a real benefit. You’ll know how far you can go before your lens diffraction gets so bad it actually wrecks your shots. This is more applicable to landscapes where you want a higher f/stop for lots of detail, but it also applies to macro too! ๐Ÿ™‚ Click the images below for a larger look.