Archive for July, 2009

Battery Grip

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

Battery grips’ primary purpose is obviously to be a battery and a grip. Obviously.

But battery grips are worth more discussion than that.

So let’s explore the first function: battery. Battery grips typically allow you to insert more than one proprietary battery at a time, doubling battery capacity. But here’s the great thing: many battery grips, such as the Nikon’s MD-80 and Canon’s BG-E5, also accept AA batteries. Although the AA batteries don’t last as long as the proprietary batteries, well, they are cheap and can get you out of a jam, such as a week-long camping expedition.

The next best reason to use a battery grip is if you are a portrait photographer, turning your camera in portrait orientation (ie. sideways) is easier, as you now have a side grip and an extra shutter release button on the battery grip.

For some cameras, such as the Nikon D300 and D700, using the AA batteries actually increase the frames per second. (e.g. 5frames/sec to 8frames/sec). You eat up batteries much faster, but this is great for action shots such as in sports photography.

The last reason I can think of – it makes your camera look more professional. With the trend for DSLRs getting smaller and smaller, the grip makes it look more serious and easier to manage.


Tuesday, July 28th, 2009


You might look at a scene and say that the buildings look terrific, the people look terrific, the sky is gorgeous, you point your camera and shoot. Then you look at the LCD and ask yourself what went wrong.

All cameras have a limited dynamic range. The human eye on the other hand has a terrific dynamic range.  What this means is if you expose for the sky then the ground, buildings, trees and people might be underexposed. And if you expose for the people, the sky might be overexposed (i.e. white).

To overcome this a fairly new technique emerged called HDR, short for High Dynamic Range. How this works is via software, multiple exposures are combined so that the dark foreground and the bright background are combined into a final picture.

The easiest way to achieve an HDR image is to use the auto bracketing functionality of your DSLR camera, if it supports it. Set your camera to take 3 exposures, one at -2 exposure, one at +2 exposure, and one at normal exposure. Since the +2 exposure will typically be a longer exposure, and it would be unwise to try to do this handheld, it is best to use a tripod for HDR shooting.

Now that you have the exposures, you need to merge the 3 (or more) photos into a final photo.

Looking at the following three examples you can see what I was talking about earlier. When the sky and clouds are clearly seen, the statue is black. When the features of the statue are visible, the sky is overexposed and the clouds are much less visible. When the picture is underexposed, the details around the sun are more visible

Picture at normal exposure

Picture at normal exposure

Picture at +2 exposure compensation

Picture at +2 exposure compensation

Picture at -2 exposure compensation

Picture at -2 exposure compensation

You can use Photoshop to do this. Personally I use Photomatix, which you can get from HDRsoft. Photomatix has plugins for Lightroom and Photoshop. You can try the demo; the only limitation is it watermarks your outputs.

The software isn’t automatic, you need to play with the settings to get the result you desire. Some HDR images look hyper-real, but you can get a realistic image from an HDR as well.

Here’s how I rendered the above images into an HDR.

Final HDR

Final HDR

Note how the features in the sky and on the statue are clearly defined, which was not the case in any of the previous three images.

Scott Kelby Photowalk

Saturday, July 25th, 2009


I was privileged to join this year’s Scott Kelby worldwide photowalk. This is a photo expedition that takes place simultaneously in over 900 cities across the world, with 32,000 participants. I represented Ottawa along with 49 other local photographers.

The official website for the photowalk is here.

Scott Kelby is a professional photographer, president of the National Association of Photoshop Professionals (NAPP), head of Kelby training, author of top selling books, and more.

You can check out some more of my fun pictures here.


Secret Weapon

Friday, July 24th, 2009

I will let you in on a little secret. One of my secret weapons when I shoot is this: kneepads. Technically I usually only wear one kneepad, on my dominant knee.

Kneepads let me drop to one knee quickly when doing portraiture and modeling shots. They also let you quickly change your point of view when shooting anything (like nature photography). If you are less likely to get lower because it’s uncomfortable, or you are concerned you will wear out your knee over time, a kneepad is a quick remedy. Taking pictures from your normal standing position is boring – it’s good to change things up to make photos more interesting. Getting lower is a must in portraiture (e.g. full body shots).

If you say you don’t need kneepads, that’s fine – but if you find yourself not bothering to get low, then ask yourself why not.

Light Meters

Sunday, July 19th, 2009

Today’s DSLR cameras have magnificent light metering technology. There are still situations where you will want to use a separate light meter. The main situation is where you are using studio flash lighting. If you set your camera to anything other than Manual mode, the camera will meter the lighting before the flashes fire, and that will result in an overexposed image.

When I first got my light meter, I didn’t understand why my light meter let you dial in the shutter speed I was going to use (which would then give you the aperture f-stop number after taking a light reading), but it wouldn’t let you input the f-stop and give you a shutter speed setting. After buying my studio lighting I then understood: when measuring studio lighting, you always know what shutter speed you are using based on the speed of your flashes. If your flashes fire at 1/200 of a second, you are going to set your camera to 1/200 of a second, and thus you need the light meter to tell you what f-stop to use. If you set your camera to a faster shutter speed, you may be too fast for the flash sync to occur. If you set it to a longer exposure, well, your studio flash (for example) is only firing at 1/200 of a second, so any longer won’t contribute to your exposure.

Having said all that, a light meter will give you a suggestion of f-stop based on what shutter speed (and ISO) you tell it you are going to use. It will give you that reading to provide you with an average (like the 18% gray) image. If you don’t want 18% gray, then you are going to tweak the numbers.

I find that trial and error with the camera is often faster than taking a light reading, and then tweaking (trial and error) to get the right lighting for the shot. Modern DSLRs have histograms, allowing you quickly see how much light is in your shot, and allowing you to quickly adjust if it’s too much or too little.

Since light meters can cost as much as an entry-level DSLR, my advice is not to bother with a light meter, or try to find a used one to see if you like it. You may find that the trial and error method is just as effective, and much cheaper!

(If you didn’t understand this post, don’t worry. Go back and read my post on Aperture and Shutter Speed. Then come back and re-read this).

Fast Lenses

Sunday, July 19th, 2009

You may have heard the term “Fast Lens” when referring to a good quality lens. I find the term “Fast” a bit misleading, although technically accurate.

A fast lens is a lens with a large aperture. So a 50mm lens with the largest aperture of f5 may not be considered a fast lens, a 50mm lens with the largest aperture of 1.4 is very fast. Remember the aperture size is the size of the opening or diaphragm of the lens. A smaller number means a bigger opening.

The reason it is a “fast” lens is that, if you recall from my previous post on aperture, a larger aperture lets in more light, and thus the lens aperture does not need to be left open for as long as a lens with a smaller aperture.

This is significant! Imagine shooting an indoor wedding with low light. Let’s say the church doesn’t allow flash, and doesn’t allow you to use your tripod. If you shoot with a slow lens, you will need to use a slower shutter speed to get a well lit shot of the bride and groom. Since we humans tend to shake, a longer exposure will reveal that shaking, and will be exhibited as blur. A faster, better lens will be able to take the same shot in a much shorter exposure, thus leading to less camera shake and resulting in a sharper image.