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Buying a Camera?

2 Oct

Many people shoot in what is called Automatic mode, which allows the camera to make all the settings for you. But, you probably want to learn about some of the advanced features and techniques of digital photography. In this post, I will attempt to describes some basic features you will want to consider when purchasing a camera. Or if you already have a camera, you will want to be familiar with these features.

Megapixel/Memory Size

Mostcamera buyers think the higher number of megapixels a camera has, the better the quality of photos. This is not really the truth and camera sellers have been selling cameras with larger megapixels than most people really need. Megapixel size relates to the size of the prints you make at a typical resolution of 240ppi. You want to make sure that camera you purchase will be at least 3-5 megapixels, which enables you to make 4×6 to 8×10 prints. Most cameras these days will start at this size. If you’re doing professional photography, you will want to get at least an 8-10 pixel size camera, or larger, for larger size prints if needed. But remember, if you’re shooting with say an 8-10 megapixel camera, your image files will be two to three times larger than with a 3 megapixel camera. With an 8-10 megapixel camera, you will pretty much be able to get prints at A2 and even A1. (Dependent upon the image)

Image Stabilisation

Cameras that include image stabilization can sometimes help reduce the blur that occurs from the movement of a camera or subject. You still need to learn to steady your shots, but image stabilization can often help you when the ambient light for the shot is too low or when the camera is having difficulty focusing on the subject.

Menu Control

When you are “playing” with a camera, notice how easy or difficult it is to access the different control features. If you plan on using your camera a lot, beyond the simple point-and-shoot mode, you will want camera controls to be easily accessible. At best, a cameras exposure setting (aperture, shutter speed, and other modes) should be accessed outside the camera. There is no point in you having to go into the menus to hunt down and change these settings for each shot. Pretty much all DSLR cameras have dedicated wheels and buttons for these important functions.


Optical Zoom vs Digital Zoom

First off, we need to get something straight. Optical zoom and Digital zoom are not the same thing.

Without getting too technical, Optical zoom is achieved through the use of optical quality glass and the positioning of it inside a lens. Digital zoom is pretty much the camera “looking” at what it sees, then applying a magnifying glass. Yes, this means you get to have the image closer to you, but the resolution is usually very poor. As a result you really cannot print the image or enlarge it beyond the smallest 4X6 size.

Ideally, your non-DSLR camera should be set to shoot in Optical zoom, which “uses the optics (lens) of a camera to bring the subject closer”. So optical zoom is what you should primarily use on your point-and-shoot camera.


If you are looking to do advance photography, you need to make sure your camera includes manual exposure capabilities, which include full manual exposure, aperture and shutter priority, wide ISO range, and flash compensation. These advance features are a part of compact and DSLR cameras. You cannot use these features when you’re shooting in Automatic mode or some of the preset modes, such as night or portrait mode.

With advance features you have more control over certain shooting situations. For example, you can shoot in what is called Shutter priority mode, which provides control over how long the shutter is “open”. If you shoot with a slow shutter speed (e.g.1/15th of a second), the subject will have some blur to depict movement. If you select a fast shutter speed (e.g. 1/2500th of a second), you can freeze a moving subject. I will cover this in later posts.

RAW Capabilities

If you plan on doing detailed processing of your images in programs like Photoshop, iPhoto or Lightroom ()I will talk about different programs at a later date, you will want to make sure your camera can shoot in RAW, as well as JPEG mode. All cameras can shoot in JPEG mode, but not all, especially point-and-shoot cameras, can shoot RAW photos. There is a major difference between the two modes. With JPEG an algorithm in the camera drops some image data and compresses each shot, which makes for a smaller image file. With RAW photos all image data is retained. Images shot in JPEG and RAW modes look the same. The difference comes when you’re processing photos in an RAW image editor, you have more control over making changes to areas such as White Balance, exposure contrast, saturation, sharpness, and other settings. With a DSLR, you are able to control your White Balance, if for example your white balance control is set for indoor shooting, but you’re actually shooting outdoors, you can edit and outdoor white balance setting when you open the image in a RAW image editor. (More about that later)

The biggest draw back to RAW photos is that the files are a lot larger and thus fill up memory cards very fast. You also must use a RAW image editor to process RAW photos. But if you want or need to process the image, the RAW format is the only way to go to do it properly.


Brand can play a major difference in cameras, especially at the point and shoot level. There are some very poorly features/constructed beasts out there, that are poorly designed, poorly built and whilst offering some spectacular features and making some brilliant claims are not really up to par. Generally, go with a brand name, such as Sony, Kodak, Samsung, FujiFilm and the like.

When it comes to DSLR cameras, there are a smaller number of cameras to choose from. The major players are Nikon and Canon. Other manufacturers such as Sony and Olympus make comparable equipment, but for the larger range of options and lenses, Nikon and Canon are the usual choices.

And remember, the megapixel are not the most important feature. Do some serious research, check out sensors and go from there. There is a lot of information out there, so read it, and go to manufacturer websites to compare, Also compare camera on google. A simple search such as Canon 60D vs Nikon D3200, will yield some excellent information.


The Power of Photoshop

17 Sep

So, you took a great photo, but . . . there is something in the photo that you don’t want. Something maybe you missed when you took it, but now it stands out and really doesn’t help. What can you do?

Well, you can go back and re-take the photo, but maybe it is there and cannot be removed or not captured. An example:


A lovely small waterfall, but an ugly valve-head in the way.

Don’t despair. Photoshop can fix this for you, and it won’t take 4-5 hours. In fact, in under 5 minutes, you can removed all traces of the valve-head and have a perfect waterfall.

So, what do you do?

First off, select the Quick Selection Tool, from the side toolbar.


Click and drag this over the offending part of the image, in this case the valve-head and you will get a selection like so:


Note the dotted line, showing the selected area.

Then simply press the “delete” key on your keyboard. This will bring up a “fill” dialog box. Press OK and wait for Photoshop to remove the offending part of the image. In the process, it extrapolates what it believes “should” be there and replaces it with just that. You should end up with an image like this:


As you can see, the valve-head has now been removed, leaving only the outline of it. Now we can use another tool to remove that and provide us with a much better image.

Click on the side toolbar and this time select the “Spot Healing Brush Tool”.


Click on an area near the outline, hold and drag back and forward over the areas you want replaced. This can and does take a little practice, but if you do it in small sections, repeating the process each time, you will very quickly get the hang of it. Once you have finished, you should have an image similar to this one.


Of course, with more work and practice, you can make this a relatively flawless image and have no sign of the valve-head that once lingered.

So, grab a couple of those old photos you took, you know, the ones with some thing you didn’t want in the first place, and have a play. The worst you can do is probably a lot better than what you had.


Adobe Photoshop

3 Jul

Well, a once post production ‘hater’ has come to realise the importance of being able to make some minor changes to photos to fix them.

I was chided by a friend, who told me I was doing myself a total disservice, by not using some post production, as I wasn’t bring out the true images.

So, I took the big leap and gave it a go. The result were astounding to say the least.


     Before                                                                        After

This is a real result from three simple filter passes in Adobe Photoshop. I was initially happy with the before, then I saw the results of the after.

As you can imagine, I have played with a lot of my other work and I must say, I have ‘resurrected’ quite a few that I thought were losses.

I then had a think and remembered the other little tidbit I was told. Use RAW, it is the only way to go.

I had been against using RAW, as I felt it was too advanced for me, and mostly because of the difficulty I had in importing it into different photo editors. Then I tried it in Adobe Photoshop.

I am a changed man!

OK, I am using RAW, but I still get a basic Jpg, for simplicity.

The ease of using RAW images in Adobe Photoshop simply amazed me. They open almost like any other file, but then the ‘fun’ begins.

A little over or under exposed? No problem, that can be sorted. Too dark in a  part, too light in another, OK, it can fix that. Heck, the lighting was too ‘sterile’ cool, it can make it warm, or whatever you want. The colours are incredible, as I now realise, it records EVERYTHING!

Is it really this good? The proof is in the pudding!


     Before                                                                       After

I made obviously poor choices with the lighting in the before shot. I could muck around with it for hours, or when I have tried a few different ways, simply throw it into Adobe Photoshop and ‘viola’, the job is done, the colours, contrasts, tones, saturation, everything, fixed. And I GET TO CONTROL IT, to get the RESULT I WANT !

OK, so the image size is a lot more. It does hold EVERYTHING the camera saw, not just what it thinks it saw.

On the whole, I don’t think I could really go back. I would be mad.

So, I guess it is time to say thank you to Tim. He pushed me, and I decided it was time to listen to others and try it. Thank You, Tim.

Now to get my son to use it . . .


17 May


OK, so you handed over a large chunk of money for a great DSLR. No doubt, within a week, you have been told

“You should be shooting in RAW”

Like me, you probably looked at the person with a blankness associated with a politician asked to actually provide an answer to the question.

Then. like me, you got home, jumped online, checked your manual and even tried out shooting in RAW. So what happened?

Shooting in JPEG

OK, so shooting in JPEG is quite a simple thing to consider. You take the photo, the software (or firmware to those so inclined) quickly does some magical calculations and creates an image, based on what information it gets form the CMOS and what it has been programmed to do with that information. The information from the CMOS, can and does change based on the shot itself (lighting,) and the setting used at the time.

From this you get an image which may have some colour loss.

The major actor in this case is the Discrete Cosine Transformation (or DCT) which breaks the image up into blocks (usually 8×8 pixels) and determines what can be “safely” thrown away because it is less perceivable (the higher the compression ration and lower the quality of the JPEG, the more is thrown away during this phase). And when the image is put back together a row of 24 pixels that had 24 different tones might now only have 4 or 5. That information is forever lost, as the raw data from the sensor isn’t recorded in a Raw file.

In the end you have an image that is far better than your old point-and-shoot cameras. If you are using burst shots, then JPEG will allow more as there is little to no processing time.

A JPEG File is:

• a standard format readable by any image program on the market or available open source.
• exactly 8-bits per color (12-bits per location).
• compressed (by looking for redundancy in the data like a ZIP file or stripping out what human can’t perceive like a MP3).
• fairly small in file size (an 8 megapixel camera will produce JPEG between 1 and 3 MB’s in size).
• lower in dynamic range.
• higher in contrast.
• sharper.
• immediately suitable for printing, sharing, or posting on the Web.
• not in need of correction most of the time (75% in my experience).
• able to be manipulated, though not without losing data each time an edit is made – even if it’s just to rotate the image (the opposite of lossless).
• processed by your camera.

Shooting in RAW

If you are shooting in RAW, then you get some real benefits. You get what you shoot. Everything. It is as simple as that. There are however some really good points for this, and some not so good points against this.

Whilst most modern camera have some software inbuilt to allow for basic processing or RAW images, the majority of your processing will be on your computer. Why? Simple, your computer has much more power to do this quickly and efficiently.

This is both a pro and a con. On the pro side, you have absolute control over the final image, using all of the information taken in when the image was first taken. On the con side, you have to create the image. I liken it to similar to processing film. The benefit is you can get it wrong and simply start again, changing white balance, colour, shadows and the like.

You will need some software for this, there are some good Freeware versions out there, and some excellent versions you pay for, sometimes quite expensive.

As stated above, the camera in processing a JPEG will lose some data that is considered ‘unnecessary’, so you don’t get the ‘full picture’, so to speak, in RAW you do get it, and are able to manipulate it.

A Raw File is:

• not an image file per se (it will require special software to view, though this software is easy to get).
• typically a proprietary format (with the exception of Adobe’s DNG format that isn’t widely used yet).
• at least 8 bits per color – red, green, and blue (12-bits per X,Y location), though most DSLRs record 12-bit color (36-bits per location).
• uncompressed (an 8 megapixel camera will produce a 8 MB Raw file).
• the complete (lossless) data from the camera’s sensor.
• higher in dynamic range (ability to display highlights and shadows).
• lower in contrast (flatter, washed out looking).
• not as sharp.
• not suitable for printing directly from the camera or without post processing.
• read only (all changes are saved in an XMP “sidecar” file or to a JPEG or other image format).
• sometimes admissable in a court as evidence (as opposed to a changeable image format).
• waiting to be processed by your computer.


From the two shots below, you can see what post processing in RAW can do to save an otherwise poorly lit shot.


Before Picasa


After Picasa

OK, the first image has a real washed out, lacking in colour look, you might associate with some cheap point-and-shoot camera. The second photo shows the corrections made and the vibrant colours that were achieve, post production.

Now this was apparently done using Picasa, a FREE app, from Google. To me, yes it works, but the skin tone on the girls almost makes them appear like they all have jaundice. I am guessing it is a result of the process of adding yellows to bring out the green grass, but it also effects the other areas.

I understand that some of the ‘better’ options, Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom or even Capture NX2, allow almost pin point accuracy in making these changes, but I personally cannot see a great benefit considering the time one would spend ‘getting it right’.

For me, more time spent ‘getting it right’ with the camera would have resulted in a better shot to start with. But that is just my view.

So the verdict?

I will not seek a war here. I personally find the simplicity of using JPEG at this point of my experience better. I do little to no post-production, as I go from the view, I either go the shot or didn’t. There are those who prefer to ‘enhance’ their shots, and complain of limitations if the image is in JPEG.

I have tried RAW and found it an interesting option. I expect later I may use RAW occasionally, and maybe more, as I will demand more of my images as I become more self-critical of my shots. I may even go into post production eventually, who knows.

When considering post production however, I think from my limited experience, pretty much anything you can do in RAW, I can mimic in JPEG. Software these days does more than simply lighten/darken, heckI think I can pretty much change any layer of any photo at the layer level using such Freeware as Gimp 2. So for me, at this point shooting in RAW, seems to simply create more work to get to my image.

Try RAW, it can make some interesting differences, but the resulting image may not be as sharp as the comparable JPEG. You could try shooting RAW + JPEG, as a lot of cameras now allow. This gives you the best of both worlds. You get that JAPEG for the sharpness, and also the RAW data saved, should you decide to play with the image later.

I have heard many say, all professionals shoot only in RAW. I think that is a bit of a bold statement. I suspect they shoot in RAW + JPEG, and some even simply use the power of the camera and shoot in JPEG itself.

It is a matter of personal choice. I will not and honestly cannot say which it ‘correct, better or right’, but I can say, both work in the way they are intended, so go forth and use whatever suits your needs and preferences.

Yes, shooting in RAW can save an otherwise lost photo, but to me personally, that ‘lost’ photo is not of such great importance that I would spend hours tinkering with it, at least not at this stage. For me, JPEG provide a clear, sharp image, which I can apply, if I choose, some basic ‘enhancing to’.

Remember, I am no expert, just someone learning photography. This is my opinion, based on my experience, you may have a different one, that is fine, I accept that.

One Final Note

One thing I did not mention in this was the size of the resulting file, whether it be RAW or JPEG. Some may ask why? Simple, these days we are not limited as we were not too long ago by the very small sizes of memory cards. Where we thought we were doing well having 32 Mb of memory, while the professionals were lucky and had 512 Mb. I use a 16Gb SD Card. I recently found a bargain price of $30 for an 8Gb CF Card, which I bought for a friend who I knew was getting by with a 16Mb card. With many Gigabytes of space, the concern of a 3-4Mb JPEG vs 10-12 Mb RAW, is not worth the hassle. Just in case you were wondering.

The Rule of Thirds

5 May

In photography, there are some “rules”, some of which I swear by, others, not so much.

In general, I agree with the Rule of Thirds, heck, where do I get off on a tried and true method and many years of experts proving the rule? Well, I do, at times and I think most people will at some stage either by design or even accident find that they get a great photos without the Rule of Thirds applying.

The rule of thirds is one f the main rules in photography. It stems from a theory that the human eye naturally gravitates to the intersection points that occur when you split the image into thirds.

I, like others, view this more as a guideline, rather than a rule. If it is a rule, then rules are meant to be broken.


In the rule of thirds, a photo is divided into thirds with imaginary lines running horizontally and vertically, resulting in the image being divided into nine squares. When you take a photo, with the rule of thirds in mind, it is apparently better to compose the planned photo in the camera. this results in less need to crop the image later on.



Rule of Thirds Examples
Rule of Thirds Example: Landscapes

When taking a picture of a landscape, it’s natural to want to center the horizon in the frame. However, pictures often look better if the horizon falls on the upper or lower horizontal dividing line. If the focus of your image is on land (i.e. mountains, buildings), the horizon should fall near the upper third and if the focus is the sky (i.e. sunsets, sunrises), the horizon should fall near the lower third.

Here is an example of the rule of thirds for a landscape photo. The focus is on the land area rather than the sky so the bottom two-thirds of the photograph are filled with land and the top third is sky.


Rule of Thirds Example: Portraits

Here is an example of a rule of thirds portrait. As you can see, the eyes are lined up with the upper horizontal line and each eye is where the upper horizontal line intersects with a vertical line.


My Examples

Mind you, I think, these following examples clearly show that it isn’t always necessary to break an image into thirds . . .


No thirds, as the flowers fill the image on all areas pretty much equally.


I feel this is close to the Rule of Thirds, but I argue that the rope crossing over the “imaginary line” breaks the rule for sure.


But then, the rule of thirds may just have something in it . . .

You decide, as I see it, if you like the composition of your image, and are happy with it, who cares if it is able to be broken into thirds? It is your image, you decide.