Archive for August, 2009

Lens Filters

Sunday, August 30th, 2009

There are many types of filters that you can get for your lenses. Here’s a brief rundown of some of the filters I use.

UV, Clear and Haze:

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UV Filters

A UV filter removes some invisible UV light that may lead to haze in photos. Clear, or “digital clear”  is only used to protect your lens. Even though the UV filter has some marketable value in the end result of your photography, the most common reason for using the UV filter is the same as the clear filter: to protect your lens.  A haze filter is a type of UV filter, but it is more liberal in removing the ultraviolet light (and some visible light).

There are conflicting opinions on whether or not to use a UV or clear filter to protect your lens. One party feels that these filters have negative impact on the final output of the photograph. By adding “cheap” glass in front of your expensive lens, you are doing yourself a dis-service. If you want to protect your lens, use a lens hood.

The other argument is that a UV filter protects your front element, so if you drop your lens or rub against something, you are only damaging the cheap filter, and not your expensive lens.

Personally I fall into the latter category. Here are my personal reasons:

  1. By using a filter on my lens, I tend to use lens caps less. This allows me to be more ready to take a picture in a hurry. I don’t want to worry about messing with lens caps when there is an opportunity that is fleeting.
  2. I feel better about cleaning the lens filter when it gets dirty than cleaning the front of the lens element. I’m not too worried about scratching my UV filter or smudging it – I can always replace the lens filter.
  3. If there is a “money shot”, I will take off the UV filter briefly, knowing full well that my lens is clean and dust-free. The UV filter has kept the dust out during my 3 hour walk in the wilderness.
  4. Based on my personal tests of photographs between shooting with and without a UV filter, the difference is negligible and usually not discernable.


Polarizer

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Polarizer

A polarizing filter acts just like your polarizing sunglasses, it polarizes the incoming light. What this effectively does is reduce reflections in water and other reflective surfaces. It also improves photography in hazy conditions, because a large part of haze is reflection of water particles. To get more information on how polarization works, consult Brewster’s angle in Wikipedia. Polarizing filters also increase the contrast between clouds and sky, so they are definitely a good item to keep in your camera bag.

There are two types of polarizers: linear and circular. Most dSLR lenses have issues with polarized (linear) light and auto-focus. Circular polarizers take the polarized light and convert it back to circular light. Thus circular polarizers are better suited for modern digital SLRs, but they come at a price – they are more expensive than linear polarizers.

Star Filters

Star filters have prisms embedded in the filter, which cause lights (e.g. street lights, headlights) passing through the filter to have a classic star appearance. There are different configurations of these filters, creating typically either 4, 6, or 8 point stars. Unlike the previous filters mentioned, the star filters are not corrective in nature, but more of a “special effect” filter.

Neutral Density Graduated Filter

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Neutral Density Graduated Filter

A neutral density graduated filter goes from totally clear to slightly dark. The “neutral density” part means that there are no changes to the colour. Basically what these are good for are landscape pictures, so that your sky is slightly darker and the ground is slightly brighter. There are different degrees of graduation (how fast it goes from light to dark), and there are different degrees of how dark the darkest part of the filter goes (e.g. 0.3 stops, 0.6 stops, etc).

An alternative to using a neutral density graduated filter is shooting in HDR.

Colour filters

There are different types of colour filters. There are colour corrective filters (that effectively fix the white balance of your photographs), and colour subtractive filters, which remove a colour hue such as red or green, to a certain extent. There are also gradient colour filters.

Colour filters were necesary with film cameras, but with digital cameras, all colour corrections, such as white balance correction or colour subtraction can be done either in the camera, or in post-processing, with ease. I do not use colour based filters, and they are used less in general with digital photography.

Cooliris

Saturday, August 29th, 2009

Cooliris is a terrific utility that plugs into Firefox (or Internet Explorer, if you’re one of “those” people).

It lets you browse pictures in Flickr, Facebook, Google Images, etc., with an intuitive and graphically stunning interface. Don’t think about installing it, just do it now.

Backups

Monday, August 24th, 2009

Everyone knows how important backups are, especially with your pictures. But most people still don’t do it.

Hard drives fail people. Even enterprise rated hard drives have almost a 1% chance of failing per year. How many years have you had your hard drive?

There are several things you should do to back up. Here’s my workflow as an example.

When I upload my pictures from my memory card, the software I use to upload the files (Nikon Capture) automatically backs-up the files. I have it configured to backup to a separate hard drive in my workstation, so if the first hard drive fails, I have a backup on the other drive. I shoot in RAW format, meaning the files are pretty big! Do not backup to the same hard drive, that’s (almost) useless.

When I take pictures of a special event or assignment (particularly if there’s money involved), I back up the original images to a DVD disk. That way if my entire computer blows up, I still have the pictures on a separate media.

After processing the files, I often backup the processed files (Jpeg format) to a CD-rom.

From time to time I backup my files to a network hard drive. Personally, I use a network attached hard drive, a Linksys Nas 200. *If you want my review on this device, contact me.

I also backup files to removable hard drives. I use normal “internal” SATA hard drives, but I place them in a dock. This allows me to swap out the hard drives and get them offsite.

I’ll reiterate this point because this is vital – get your pictures OFFSITE. If God forbid you should have a fire, theft, or some sort of tragedy, losing your pictures would be horrible. That’s because you can always replace “things”, but you can’t replace pictures. Give the hard drive to a friend or family member to store for you. When you have a new hard drive (with more recent backup), swap hard drives with them.

You can also use an internet based backup system, such as Window’s Skydrive or Mesh, or a paid service such as Carbonite.

I also upload quite a few pictures to my website and to Flickr, which a form of backup. It doesn’t account for my RAW files, but at least the Jpegs are backed up and Flickr stores the original size (if you want them to).

I may have said a lot, but the effort I exert to backup is minimal, and I’ve covered my a$$. If you get into the habit of doing it, it’s like brushing your teeth. Don’t get into the mindset of “I’ll do it someday”.

Here’s a summary of what you should do at a minimum:

1) Backup to another drive, whether it’s in the same PC, or an external USB or network drive

2) Backup to optical media, such as CD or DVD, when the pictures are important to you or someone else

3) Backup offsite

Street Photography

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

Street photography forces you, the photographer, to leave your comfort zone and overcome shyness. It’s a great exercise to force you out of your “shell”. Check out this great video from Wired on Street photography.

You can visit our take on street photography on Flickr. Pictures will be added constantly.