Wednesday, October 26, 2011

"Nocturne" - Inspired by James Abbott McNeill Whistler

The wife and I visited Princeton, that gorgeous town, just this October. While inside a friend's car on a foggy, dreary day, probably based on instinct, perhaps from a desire to always have a camera on hand ready to shoot, well, I had a camera in my hands ready to shoot...

Flashback a couple of days, I saw this work of art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It's by James Abbott McNeill Whistler (wiki) and its title is Nocturne. I was fascinated by this painting that I spent quite some time looking and studying it.

Fast forward to me sitting inside our friend's car... I was able to make this photograph:

ISO100, f/4, 1/50s

Was I was influenced by the original work of art? Did the painting inspire me to make my own Nocturne? Maybe. But I only remembered I had that photo from the museum after I had inspected the photos I made from the trip in my desk here in Chicago!

Perhaps it was at the back of my mind all along. Perhaps my subconscious wanted to me create my own. Or perhaps I just realized that there was a scene developing in front of me and I had to capture it.

But one thing I've learned from this experience for sure: always have a camera on hand just in case inspiration hits you. Oh, and also, you will learn a lot by learning from the masters.

Shots made with a Canon 5D Mark II and a Canon EF 24-105 f/4L lens. Want the best backpack for your DSLR? Check out my review of my favorite, the Lowepro Versapack 200AW, here and here.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Lowepro DMC-Z - A Photographer Must-Have

A long time ago, I only had two CF cards and "organizing" them wasn't a problem - I just had to remember whether I've used the one outside the camera or not. But now, I've added some Sandisk higher capacity cards plus some cards of smaller capacities that I got from some photography conventions - my collection of CF cards has grown into something that's more difficult to manage by just keeping them in the plastic case that they came in.

So, I needed something to keep my cards organized. I said on a previous post that, for me, Lowepro is always a good place to start when it comes to photography accessories and that is where I looked for something to keep my CF cards in check.

I got the Lowepro DMC-Z.

This is a simple but very useful accessory to have. As a sort of mnemonic, I trained myself to think like this: if the label is showing then it is an unused card; if the back side is visible, then that is a used card. This is something I've learned from other photographers and it's a nice thing to know so that you won't overwrite on a card you have already used for the day.

You can store six cards on this thing.

As you can see from the picture above, I use the last pocket to store my business cards (which I have to remember to give away whenever the opportunity arises).

Another thing that I like about this case is its "SlipLock" feature: you can easily attach it to your belt, a strap on your bag, etc, because of the velcro strap at the back.

On the picture above, you can see the pouch attached to my favorite bag, the Lowepro Versapack 200AW (my reviews here and here). I actually got this idea from Derrick Story from this video though I put the DMC-Z on the right to make the left-sided opening consistent with my other bags, like the Lowepro CompuDay Photo 250 (my review) and Lowepro Slingshot 202AW (my review).

Is there anything not to like? Well, the middle pockets can get really tight when you fill it with cards. This makes taking out the cards more difficult than usual. But aside from that, the CF card case is a really good accessory to have. And, as expected from Lowepro, the materials used are of very good quality and the craftsmanship is superb.

So, when you find yourself struggling to keep your cards organized, consider getting one of these.

Highly Recommended!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Custom White Balance and A Coffee Lid

There are two things I can't live without on a day-to-day basis: my cappuccino and my iPhone. Now, when I go out shooting, more often than not, I always forget my white balance card so I just rely on what my camera has built-in and just try to change the white balance setting in post using Lightroom.

However, I have found a technique that provides a temporary solution to my white balance forgetfulness: use the lid of the coffee cup as a white balance reference.

So, what I do is put the lid in front of the lens, set my lens to manual focus, then shoot a reference shot. I make sure that the exposure setting of the shots with and without the lid are the same: so, if I want to overexpose my shot by one stop for example, I adjust my setting with the lid in front of my lens to have an exposure value of one stop overexposed also.

I then set the white balance in my camera to Custom then proceed with the shot.

Canon 5D Mark II - Original shot

Canon 5D Mark II - Xrite Corrected 

Canon 5D Mark II - with coffee lid
in front of lens

Canon 5D Mark II - WB corrected with
coffee lid

I tested this technique on both my Canon 5D Mark II and Canon Powershot SX230 HS and, so far, my shots have been successful. I also shot my subject using the ColorChecker Passport as reference.

Note, however, compared to the ColorChecker, the shots made with the coffee lid turn out a little on the cool side.

Canon Powershot SX230 HS -
Original shot

Canon Powershot SX230 HS -
Xrite Corrected

Canon Powershot SX230 HS -
with coffee lid in front of lens

Canon Powershot SX230 HS -
WB corrected with coffee lid

Now, I just have to remember two things photographically: remember to shoot another reference shot when the lighting situation changes and remember to use a clean coffee lid else my lens will have some milk froth on it. Oh, and don't mind the crazy looks you might get when you put a coffee lid "filter" in front of your lens.

[N.B.: The mug was lighted with a warm, tungsten-like colored fluorescent bulb. Further, you can tell that the white balance correction for the newer point-and-shoot is better despite both being set to Auto. Really what a difference in processing prowess several years can bring. The advantage of the 5D Mark II, though, is that it can shoot in RAW.]

Gadgets used in the shots:

The first four shots were made with the Canon 5D Mark II with a Canon EF 24-105 f/4L lens. Want the best DSLR backpack? Check out the reviews of my favorite, the Lowepro Versapack 200AW, here and here.

The next four shots were made with a Canon Powershot SX230 HS. Check out my review of this camera here and a very good case for it here.

White balance for some of the shots were checked using the Xrite ColorChecker Passport.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Cloud Gate - Shooting Something That's Been Shot A Million Times Already

I panned the camera while exposing for a long shutter speed. Note also that I took this shot when the sun was extremely high in the sky. People always said that you should only shoot at the "golden hour" but what am I gonna do? Go home without a single shot? I'd rather shoot at the "wrong" time than not shoot at all.

I panned the camera from left to right. Settings were at f/22, 1/8s, ISO100. Would I have done anything different? I would like to have used a polarizing filter or a neutral density filter so I could have had a longer shutter speed.

Shot made using a Canon 5D Mark II with a Canon 24-105 IS USM f/4L lens. Post-processed in Adobe Lightroom 3.

Want a great backpack for your DSLR? Check out my review of my favorite bag, the
Lowepro Versapack 200 AW, here and here.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

My Beef with the Cloud

I am listening on my iPod Classic while I type these. Before the last Apple keynote (link to video here), a lot of people were speculating that Apple will kill the iPod Shuffle, iPod Classic, iPod Nano and even the iPod Touch, arguing that the company will just bank on the iPhone and the iPad. After all, a good chunk of Apple's earnings come from the network-connected devices.

I thought that that was just pure nonsense.

I am not entirely sure about what Apple will do, I think only a handful of people inside the company knows what the next big thing is, but I am really happy that the iPod lineups I mentioned above are still being sold.


The cloud is a really good concept. Being able to have your music with you is something that I have always wanted and that is the reason why I have the iPod Classic. It's 160GB capacity is enough for my media - music, photos, videos and podcasts - and I still have enough disk space left that I use to backup my photos whenever I travel. Uploading RAW photos to the cloud to back it up? Well, it will cost you. Whenever I travel, I shoot at least 30GB worth of shots and I don't want to spend an exorbitant amount of money for that, not to mention the wifi bandwidth necessary to upload the photos. In my experience, wifi in hotels, whether free or paid, is so painstakingly slow! I couldn't even watch a low bit rate youtube video in peace: I often need to pause what I am watching so that there would be enough video buffer.

So, what about what people are saying about Apple only selling iPhones and iPads? I think that's a lot of words, and, in the immortal words of the characters in A Song of Ice and Fire, words are wind. Can we really do away with non-network-based devices? I think not. First of all, don't get me started with 4G. 3G, the current technology isn't even that good because of spotty coverage and slow download and upload speeds. I really don't know why the networks are so adamant about advertising 4G whereas 3G isn't even that reliable yet. Why don't the networks blanket the entire USA of 3G before they start boasting that they have 4G?

It's the megapixel wars all over again. It's the "the-greater-number-of-blades-in-your-razor-the-better-it-is" campaign all over again.

Wait, we haven't talked about the cost of 3G yet... Perhaps the people who are saying Apple should kill the iPod line are invested in the networks. If the networks earn a lot via the data plans, then these writers will earn a lot also in the process. But wait! Networks throttle your data speed if you are a heavy user! So even if you are willing to pay for the bandwidth, your download and upload speeds will slow down because you will be at the 3% of users that surf heavily. So much for putting your faith in the "almighty cloud" when the networks will slow down your speed when you use the network a lot.

So I really don't know why anyone would want to rely solely on the cloud... For me, a healthy combination is necessary.

What about wifi? Well, comeback to me when the whole USA has been covered with wifi, then we can talk. Heck, I'd be happy if the whole of Chicago will be covered with wifi... And wifi should be fast, right?

Yes, I'd like to have the cloud available. But I don't want to rely on that solely for the reasons I've provided above.

Written while waiting for iOS5 to land and while listening to my iPod Classic. Photo taken with an iPhone4 and post-processed using the app 100Cameras.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

When NOT To Use Image Stabilization

No, put away your pitch forks. I know some of you may be up in arms when I wrote such a "blasphemous" thing. Surely you always need image stabilization, right?

Well, actually, there are instances when you don't need it.

One instance is when you're shutter speed is fast. There is a rule that says you should shoot at a speed that is equal to the inverse of the focal length of your lens. That is, say you have a 50mm f/1.8 lens, then you should not shoot below 1/50 of a second; anything slower and you should use image stabilization (IS for Canon cameras, VR - vibration reduction - for Nikon cameras) or else camera shake will be apparent in your photos. (You can also increase the ISO value of your camera to retain the minimum shutter speed required.)

Things get a little complicated when you start using long lenses, like a 100mm f/2.8L macro lens. See, the long lenses are, well, longer, so they also tend to be heavier. Thus, holding them becomes more difficult and camera shake will be more visible in your shots. So, for the example here, you should only shoot without IS if your speed is faster than 1/100s. Just imagine shooting with a Canon 400mm lens!

However, when your shutter speed is faster than the inverse of the focal length of your lens, say 1/200s while using a 24-105 f/4L lens, then you can turn off your IS so as to save some battery power.

But, there is another occasion when you can turn off IS; actually, in this instance that I am about to tell you, you should turn IS off: when your camera is on a tripod.

I actually discovered this through an accident. I thought that my aperture setting was set at the biggest opening of my lens because I was getting some "bokeh". So I set my aperture to something bigger, like f/16, and the "bokeh" became worse! I really couldn't tell from the small screen at the back of the camera so I loaded the photos in my computer. It turned out the problem was camera shake, not bokeh. And I realized that, when I made the aperture smaller (I was shooting in aperture priority, Av), the camera shake became worse because of the longer shutter speed.

So, I turned the IS off, and everything was right in the world again.

Now, I am focusing here on Canon lenses and Nikon lenses since IS (or VR) for both cameras are built in the lenses. For Sony cameras, however, IS is built in the body so I don't know if those cameras will be affected by the same phenomenon. Sony owners, you can chime in at the comments section below. Also, I noticed that for point-and-shoot cameras, I could not see any difference whether the shot was taken with the camera on a tripod or off. 

So, when do you turn off your IS? When you are shooting with a very fast shutter speed and when your camera is on a tripod.

IS turned on. Look at the Lowepro logo all blurred.
IS turned off. Now we have a very good photo.

With a point-and-shoot, I really can't tell the difference... IS turned off.

With a point-and-shoot, I really can't tell the difference... IS turned on. 


Shots of the Lowepro DMC-Z made with a Canon 5D Mark II. Want the best bag for your DSLR? Consider my favorite bag, the Lowepro Versapack 200AW. My review of the bag can be found here and here.

Shots of the iPhone made with a Canon SX230 HS. My review of the SX230 can be found here. A very nice case for the SX230 HS can be found here.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Lowepro Dublin 20 - Great Point-And-Shoot Camera Bag

[I was supposed to post this yesterday (October 6) but I got so sad because of Steve Jobs' passing that I decided to wait a day more...]

I've always believed that all gadgets should be housed in a proper case. For me, this is especially true for those gadgets that have a very nice screen that can be scratched one way or another. Whenever I have a new gadget, and the wife can attest to this, I always get stressed out looking for a gadget case or bag.

However, for cameras, I find that Lowepro is a good place to start. Most of the time, their stuff are so good that, more often than not, the is the only place that I need!

Consider the Canon Powershot SX230 HS. It is a point-and-shoot camera but it is not really that compact. Even when switched off, there is a protrusion where the camera hides, ie it is not entirely flat. So, really slim cases are out.

However, there is one case that I really liked because it stretches out to accomodate the lens barrel: The Lowepro Dublin 20.

The stretchy neoprene material makes the case snug but not overly tight. The stitching is great and the construction is of high quality. There is a belt loop so you can easily attach the case to your person - one less thing to worry about losing when you are out and about making your next masterpiece. However, I rarely put things on my belt anymore (I used to do that when I had a pager, then a belt case for my phone, then... the memories...). So, I just put a carabiner on the belt loop so that I can attach it to the outside of my bag, as an example.

There is also a pocket for an additional SD card, perfect for those times when you just let yourself go with your photography.

The Lowepro Dublin 20 is a very nice case to have around and to protect your camera.

Highly Recommended!

My review of the Canon Powershot SX230 HS can be found here.

Shots made with a Canon 5D Mark II. Want the best bag for your DSLR? Consider my favorite bag, the Lowepro Versapack 200AW. My review of the bag can be found here and here.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Crown Fountain - Shooting A Subject That's Been Shot A Million Times Already

So you arrive at a touristy place, got your camera, and then you realize that there are a hundred more shooting the same thing. So how do you set yourself apart from the others? One suggestion that I have for you is to look at the finer details of what you are shooting. Of course you are still expected by your friends and family to take the "big picture" but if you really want to set yourself apart you have to see something else.

Shots made using a Canon 5D Mark II with a Canon 24-105 IS USM f/4L lens. Post-processed in Adobe Lightroom 3.

Want a great backpack for your DSLR? Check out my review of my favorite bag, the Lowepro Versapack 200 AW, here and here.


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