Monthly Archives: February 2012

Polls Closed!

Thanks to all who voted! Considering it is a tie between The Hummingbird and Carmel By The Sea, our Winner will have their choice of a prize!

And the winner is…Stephanie! Congratulations!

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Help Me Choose!

Hi Folks!

Help me choose a photo to submit in the “Been There” photo contest, run by The Guardian. Details can be found here. For all your efforts, if you remember to “Like” my Facebook page, or subscribe to my Twitter feed, you’ll be entered to win a signed 8″x10″ photo of the most popular photo in this poll. Thanks and good luck!

Fine print: Polls close at tomorrow, 2/22/12 at 6PM PST. Additional votes after the cutoff date will not count towards the chosen photo. Winner will be chosen tomorrow at 6PM, and will be notified via Facebook or Twitter. Please allow up to three weeks for prize to arrive. And yes, if you subscribe to the Twitter feed and Like the Facebook page, you will be entered twice!

Categories: Poll | 3 Comments

Macro Tip: Controlling Depth of Field

Continuing on the macro tips from this week, here is another for how to control your depth of field outside of adjusting your f/stop. When you are composing your image, pay attention to the relative angle from your camera (more specifically, the camera plane) vs the subject. You will gain the most depth of field, when the camera  plane is perpendicular to the subject, instead of off to an angle. The concept is similar to how the sky changes colors in the morning and evening. This is because the light has to pass through a greater layer of the atmosphere during that time, distorting the color. (And why the mid-day sun is so bright and powerful vs the breaking dawn or setting sun.) For those who are amateur astronomers, the same concept applies when looking out into space. Looking up overhead will always provide the clearest view over looking at something close to the horizon. Again, this has to do with the amount of atmosphere the light has to pass through.

Light entering the atmosphere at a lower angle has to travel through more air, suffering from distortion. Light higher up does not travel as far, and is less likely to be distorted.

Similar to the atmosphere, macros shot at an angle will have a higher chance of distortion. To maintain sharpness, increase the angle to the subject by placing the camera plane perpendicular to the subject.

So by keeping the camera plane perpendicular to the subject, you minimize the distance light has to travel, and with macros, that can make a huge difference!

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On Being A Nikon Fan

Some of you may be wondering, “Why does he focus so much on Nikon products?” The biggest reason is, I’ve really only ever shot Nikon. My Father had a Nikon that he gave me back in high school, and because of the inherited lens system, the choice was pretty much made for me. When it came time to purchase my first DSLR, the D100, I wanted the backwards lens compatibility. I have played around with some Canon products, but they never felt right in my hands. Don’t get me wrong, I think Canon cameras can make wonderful images as well, with great clarity and sharpness. (For those who might be thinking about what camera system to choose, please take a look at my other post.)

For myself, I like the build quality Nikon provides. I love the weather sealing and rugged build of their prosumer cameras. The ergonomics are the best in the industry, with the power switch and shutter button in the same position. Add on a vertical grip (or get a pro level SLR) and everything is so nicely balanced with a large lens. I love that Nikon has a fantastic auto-focus system, and their Speedlight system (CLS) is fantastic. I find their menu system intuitive, as well as how you navigate said system. The button placement on their DSLR’s is great, and once you learn to control one Nikon, you can control them all.

In terms of image quality, Nikon glass is legendary, and this has not changed in recent times. I have noticed that Nikon will often make certain sacrifices in spec to maintain their image quality, and I really appreciate that. The low light performance of their cameras is excellent, as is the overall frames per second. The lens selection is gigantic, and covers anything from intro-level “kit” lenses to pro level glass, in pretty much any type of combination you could imagine.

And while I could go on and on about all the great reasons why I love Nikon, at the end of the day, it is all about the image. If you’re shooting a Canon, Panasonic, Sony, Pentax, Olympus, it does not matter. What matters is the image that comes out in the end. Cameras should be looked upon as tools, nothing more. For myself, Nikon fits my shooting style very well, and that is the tool I choose to use.

Categories: Thoughts | Tags: | 2 Comments

Choosing a Camera System

For many beginner photographers, choosing which camera system to acquire is similar to choosing a mate for life. It’s unlikely once you make the choice, that you will jump ship and change sides. (Perhaps it’s more similar to choosing a mortgage than a mate.) I’ve compiled a very short list of items to consider if you are thinking of jumping on board the DSLR bandwagon.


I think the most important item to consider before signing yourself up to a DSLR system, is to determine what type of photographer you are. Do you like to shoot wildlife? Portraits? Adventure or action shots? Sports photography? Or do you want to shoot in a studio, or photograph food? What your ultimate goal as a photographer is, will directly impact your choice in DSLR system (or other camera system for that matter.). Think about where you will spend 90% of your shooting, and begin to build a list of items that would make that easier. Do you need low light performance in a studio setting? Do you need a rugged magnesium alloy body when shooting models? Do you even need to use f/2.8 glass? Is it more important to have better lighting control vs 3D tracking auto focus?

With your shooting style in mind, take a look at the major manufacturer’s websites and get as much information as you can on their offerings. If this is your first DSLR, it’s unlikely you will want to spend $4000 on a body. You will probably want something a bit more conservative to get your feet wet. (Not to mention, you may like a smaller body for being discreet.) Look for an upgrade path as you develop your skills. DSLR bodies are practically disposable, but good quality lenses will outlast you.

Speaking of lenses, I wanted to place this in it’s own section. While most people focus solely on the specifications of a DSLR body when making their purchasing decisions, we should not overlook the glass. Glass is perhaps the most important component on your camera. Place a low quality lens on a pro level SLR, you will get crummy images. Place a fantastic lens on a mediocre body, and you’ll get sharp images. The glass should be the biggest factor in your decision. Check to see what types of lenses each manufacturer has available. If you shoot portraits, do they offer a nice 85mm (or other) portrait lens? If you shoot wildlife, do they offer a fast 300mm or 500mm lens? Are their lens systems backwards compatible? Do you need a macro lens, or a fast prime lens, such as the venerable 50mm f/1.8? The available lenses will determine how far you can go with that particular system, so choose wisely and always remember where your photographic focus is. (ie: an underwater photographer has no need for a 400mm f/2.8 lens)

This may sound odd, but check the battery used in the camera. Batteries are the life blood of a DSLR. If you have a fantastic spec’d body, but a battery with less than stellar performance, you’ll be limited in terms of how long you can shoot uninterrupted. Most manufactures will use two or three types of batteries, depending on the model. Make sure they are of sufficient size. You can always add extra batteries as well.

Next, take a strong look at both your first choice for a camera system, and the competition. This is one of the fantastic benefits to a competitive society, the consumer get’s the benefits of the industry trying to one-up each other. Take a look at what each has to offer.

Finally, get the camera in your hands and get a feel for it. Nothing provides you better feedback, than to have the camera physically in your hands. You may find the mode dial does not feel right, or that the buttons lack a certain stiffness. If you cannot get yourself physically into a store, search online for reviews. A couple I recommend are :

Remember to focus on what types of images you would like to create throughout this decision making process. By staying true to your photographic goals, you will end up with a camera that will serve you well for years to come. And remember, the camera is a tool for you to create images, nothing more.

Categories: Beginner | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

News: Nikon Updates J1 and V1 Firmware

Nikon has updated the firmware for their J1/V1 cameras to version A:1.11/B:1.10. The fix includes:

  •  An issue that sometimes caused images captured using the Speedlight SB-N5 to be over-exposed has been resolved.
  • When switching from framing photos in the monitor to using the electronic viewfinder, or vice versa, with focus mode set to MF (manual focus) and the display zoomed in, the camera sometimes did not function properly.  This issue has been resolved.

Nikon has also updated the lens firmware for the 1 system, which includes a fix for images that may have blurred after being taken if the camera was moved too quickly, and aperture setting that were recorded incorrectly.

1 Nikkor VR 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 updated to 1.02

1 Nikkor VR 10-100mm f/4.5-5.6 PD Zoom updated to 1.01

1 Nikkor VR 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 updated to 1.02

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Macro Photography: Add A Bit of Flash

Macro photography is known for finicky depth of field. This is usually the limitation of available light, f/stop, and noise mitigation. Either jack up the ISO to support an f/32 photo, or sacrifice on the depth of field. What if you could get greater depth of field and stop action at the same time?

A tulip taken with the Nikkor 105mm Micro lens.

The technique is simple, just add a flash unit to your macro setup. It works best with an off camera, diffused flash triggered in commander mode (wireless), but even attached to the hot shoe, it provides decent results. Two or more flash units would allow you to get creative with lighting effects and controlling shadows. I’ve been using my Nikon D300 with an older Nikkor 105mm Micro f/2.8 D lens. (Wish I had the AF-S version!) Paired with a SB-800 Speedlight, I have all the light I need to get a greater depth of field. One extra benefit of using the flash as a primary light source, you can ditch the tripod! This is great for insect work, where the subject might be flying, hopping, or skittering through a messy pile of plant matter. The 105mm provides a nice working distance, and the subject is not so close that the lens casts a shadow in the frame. If you are particularly ambition, there are several manufacturers who produce a ring flash. Nikon sells two versions, the R1 for those who have a camera that supports commander mode (such as the D300), and the R1C1, for those who want a wireless command unit. The two Speedlights included in the kit are the perfect-sized SB-R200. Add a third, and they will all fire from the commander unit’s wireless signal.

The Nikon R1 attached to a D300.

So next time you are thinking about shooting some macros, bring along a flash unit. It may just give you that extra bit of oomph, to get the flower stamens in focus, or those insect antennae!

This lily sitting by the side of the road underneath a dark, cloudy sky, could have only been taken with a flash.

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Nikon’s New Cameras

For those living under a rock, Nikon released two new cameras for 2012, the ultra-high megapixel D800 and the new flagship model, the D4. The question is, how are these cameras for nature or wildlife photography? I’ve spent the past couple days mulling over the details, and I think the answer is, “It depends.”

Nikon's New D800 features a 36.3 megapixel FX sensor.

For macro and landscape photographers, the higher megapixel rating of the D800 is very attractive and will provide another level of detail. Wildlife photographers would also appreciate the higher level of detail, but would sacrifice the higher FPS.

Nikon's flagship D4 features a 16.2 megapixel FX sensor and 11FPS continuous full frame shooting.

The D4 provides a higher FPS and better low light performance, something wildlife photographers will love. (Especially those who shoot in dim/low light conditions, like rainforests or in the woods.) The lower megapixel rating isn’t terrible, and should be able to create some amazing imagery.

For myself, I have yet to decide which model is right for me. Shooting in a wide variety of conditions, the D800 would provide the best all around solution, but the low light performance of the D4 could open up a whole new world, and a whole new method of shooting. Though switching to an FX sensor from a DX sensor will pull in the fantastic reach of my 300mm f/4. Perhaps the D800 would be a nice match to the D300.

Categories: News | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

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