Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year in Warp Drive

From @garybc and @reina_reyes, Happy 2011!

Shot made with a Canon 5D Mark II and Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L lens at ISO100, f/4, 1/8s.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

December 2010 Lunar Eclipse

I was going to take a break and resume blog posting after the New Year, but who could resist making pictures of the total lunar eclipse? This is the first that I have taken pictures of so I am very happy that it was a very clear night. It almost froze my fingers off but it was worth it.

I used mirror lock up so that I will get tack-sharp pictures. I used a cable release also so that I didn't have to touch the camera to trigger it. I used manual focus because that camera had a hard time looking for something to focus on. However, the cold weather (around 30degF) made my hands shiver so much and that added to the difficulty of focusing. For the shot with the leaves, I used a flash light to light up the leaves while maintaining the aperture and shutter speed settings as is. For all the shots, I used a "Sunny" white balance setting. There are no edits done on the photos except for cropping and noise reduction in some of the high-ISO shots.

December 2010 Lunar Eclipse

Equipment used in making the shots:

Canon Eos 7D
Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6
Canon Cable release
Benro Tripod and ballhead

Photographing (In the) Snow

It is the official start of winter. Thus, the chances of snow falling and actually sticking is getting bigger. Also, according to, there's a 30% chance that it will snow on Christmas Day. Still low but if it sticks, then we might have a White Christmas here in Central New Jersey. (Growing up in the Philippines, a tropical country, I thought that there's always a White Christmas. I only have movies, TV shows and songs to blame...)

But I digress...

I want to show you two photos and I want you to think which is the black board and which is the white board.


It is very hard to tell, right? The problem with cameras these days, especially the fully automatic ones, is that it does all of the thinking for us. During the film SLR days, and I am glad I was able to shoot some with film, you have to do the thinking for the camera, not the other way around. You have to know how to expose the film and you have to do a lot of thinking before you take the shot. With digital cameras now, the film is measuring the exposure for you - set to its own devices, the camera will make everything look like middle gray - that is, simply, if you take a photo of a white object, the camera will think that the scene is bright and the camera will underexpose the shot. Conversely, if you take a picture of a black card, the camera will think that the scene is dark and it will overexpose the shot. In both instances, the camera left on its own, will produce a middle gray shot, as I've shown in the two photos above.

So how do you compensate for this? If you have a shot that is dominated by white, like a winter scene, then, to compensate for the underexposure done by the camera, you should overexpose your shot. On the other hand, if you have a scene that is dominated by black, like a sunset scene, then, to compensate for the overexposure done by the camera, you should underexpose the shot. How much you compensate will depend on the shot. So, for the examples above, first I underexposed two stops to bring out the black board.


For the shot on the right, I had to overexpose by two stops to bring out the white board.

(Now you know which is which regarding the first two photos.)

But, you can be deceived by the LCD at the back of your camera. So, if your camera can display the histogram of your shots, then, for a black-dominated shot, the histogram should be leaning towards the left; a white-dominated shot should have a histogram that is leaning to the right.

Properly underexposed shot.
Properly overexposed shot.

Just be careful that the histogram does not get out-of-bounds towards the left or the right - that simply means that you won't be able to get any details in the picture that is either overexposed or underexposed.

So, when the snow sticks this winter, make sure you adjust the correct bias for the picture that you are making. 

And, again, before heading in, make sure you insulate your camera before you bring it out inside the house. My discussion of that can be found here. And as always, keep warm and dry and enjoy this winter season. The cold climate should not be a deterrent in making great pictures.

And lastly, these ideas are not limited to winter scenes. If you have a white dominated scene, overexpose; if you have a black dominated shot, underexpose. And check your histogram.

Shots of the board made with a Canon 5D Mark II with Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L lens. Shot of the wife tubing down the slope made with a Canon 7D with Canon EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6. Shot of the sunset taken with the Canon Powershot G12.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Importance of White Balance

The Holiday Season is here! And most everyone will be taking pictures and videos of parties and events. Those are part of the Holiday tradition. But if there are somethings that I feel most people should know about taking pictures, they are these two things:
  • how to turn on the Red Eye Reduction mode and
  • how to set the proper white balance
Note that there are a lot of things to learn about photography. Two years in and I admit that I still have a lot to learn: theory about color, composition, lighting, etc. But I feel that those two are the first things that should be learned by anyone who aspires to take photos. Why? Because those two are things that can be set in the camera - you don't have to read a lot of books nor go to a photography class. All you have to do is read the manual.

Take the picture below. I took this shot with tungsten lighting. This will make pictures yellowish to reddish-yellow. But, since I set the white balance to "custom" in my camera, I was able to get the proper tint.

The incorrect white balance is very obvious on the wall behind me on the left though it is also very obvious on my right cheek and the hand holding the lens (left cheek on the picture).

So, the moral of this blog is, learn to change the white balance on your camera. And if your camera is capable, the best setting is the one where you are the one who set the white balance itself (the custom white balance). You can use a white bond paper as your reference but, if you really are serious of setting the correct white balance then I suggest you use a standard reference, like the ColorChecker Passport. And setting the white balance in-camera is most important when you are shooting jpegs - with RAW, you can easily change the white balance using photoshop or whatever picture editor you have. But, there is nothing like getting it right when you take the shot.

The picture above was made by a Canon 5D Mark II with a EF 24-105 f/4L lens.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Stocking Stuffer for the Photographer in Your Life

Photo taken with Canon G12, ISO1600, f/4.5, 1/40s

The holidays are here and you might be looking for something to give the significant photographer in your life. I would like to present here a list of things that you can give for every price range.

[Note that I am a bit biased here for the Canon brand because I am a Canon user. And also, I wouldn't recommend something I have not used, tried or tested so I wouldn't recommend cameras of another brand. If your photographer uses another brand, this is a good place to start since for most Canon brands, there is an equivalent from the other brands.]

Let's start with the camera. If the photographer in your life needs a new one then here are the choices for you.

If you want to splurge, then you can go for the Canon 1D Mark IV. But only if the photographer in your life had been really, REALLY nice. If not, then you can go for the Canon 5D Mark II or the Canon 7D. These are both professional bodies and no photographer would mind receiving either of these. The prosumer option is the Canon 60D while the consumer DSLR is the Canon Rebel T2i. These two can serve as a supplement to the pro-bodies your photographer already has. Note, though, that those last two cameras are no push-overs. They are also very capable cameras.

Another option is to give a point-and-shoot camera. There are a lot of options to choose from but I will start off with the top guns of point-and-shoots: the Canon Powershot G12 and Canon Powershot S95. These cameras have manual capabilities and will be a perfect compliment to your photographer's arsenal of DSLRs. What's more, these cameras shoot RAW, something any photographer would really want. At the opposite end of the spectrum, you can give a Canon Powershot SD1400IS or the Canon Powershot SX210IS. Though these do not shoot RAW they are still very capable cameras.

Next up are lenses. Lenses can go from relatively cheap to really expensive. One of the cheapest but really good lens to have is the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8, the so-called nifty-fifty. This lens is a very nice portrait lens. If your photographer has any of the APS-C cameras, like the Canon 50D, 60D, any of the Rebel Series, or the 7D, then you can get any of the EF-S lenses like the Canon EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 or the Canon EF-S 60mm Macro. If, on the other hand, the cameras on the arsenal are of the 5D and the 1D kind, then EF-S lenses won't work. Only EF lenses will work with those cameras, like the Canon EF 28-135 f/3.5-5.6 IS USM. Another one you can add on that list is the Canon EF 70-300 f/4-5.6 IS. But if you want to splurge then you can opt for the "luxury" lenses, like the Canon EF 24-105 f/4L IS USM or, the one I'd wish to receive myself, the Canon EF 24-70 f/2.8 IS USM. Note that all EF lenses will work for APS-C cameras.

External flash? You've got several choices, like the Canon 580 EX II and the Canon 430 EX II, the big guns in the line up. Though those two will also work for the G12, the "official" partner of that camera is the Canon 270 EX.

But of course, cameras won't work if there is no memory card inside. Depending on the camera model you can either get an SD card or a CF card. You can go really crazy even with these. Piece of advice, to get the most of the camera experience, you should get at least a "Class 4" card.

Next up are accessories. You can go for a backpack camera bag like the Lowepro Fastpack 250, a messenger bag like the Tenba Messenger, or something to house the Canon G12, like the BlackRapid Snapr. Want, in my opinion, the best the DSLR strap? Get the BlackRapid RS5.

A photographer cannot have enough tripods. In this category, the Manfrotto 7303YB. Another tripod option is something that can wrap around things like poles or tree limbs - the Joby Gorillapod plus head.

Pictures with the proper tint? The ColorChecker Passport can be a great help while the Westcott Speedlite Kit is a good way to modify the light coming from your photographer's speedlites.

Photo editing? You can get Photoshop Lightroom 3, Adobe Photoshop Elements 9 or splurge on Adobe Photoshop CS5. If your photographer is a Mac user, then you can also opt for Apple Aperture.

What photographer won't want to read books about photography. For this category, I recommend Captured by the Light, Digital Photography Book, Studio and Location Lighting Secrets, Digital Photography Secrets, The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 Book, or Layers: the Complete Guide to Photoshop's Most Powerful Features.

Lastly, if you want to go for a little humor, and everyone can use a little bit of that, by giving your photographer What the Duck. Or what about a camera lens mug like the Canon 24-105 lens replica?

I hope this list will help you in choosing the best holiday gift for your photographer. Gook luck and have a Happy Holiday! :)


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