I frequently receive emails with questions which seem to vary in content, but essentially come back to the same point. For example:
 - how do the automatic exposure modes work on a specific camera, especially when flash is used ?
 - do I agree that a certain camera model tends to under-expose in matrix metering / evaluative metering when used in Aperture Priority ?
 - can I explain certain inconsistencies when using an auto mode such as Program / Aperture Priority?

Although the questions seemingly vary,  my reply is usually the same – that I don’t know the specific answer. And the reason is that, for the most part, any “answer” here is ultimately not of any consequence to me because … I shoot (nearly) exclusively in manual exposure mode.

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fixing a loose hot shoe on a Canon camera

I had someone ask how easy it is to fix a loose hot shoe on a Canon 1D series camera. Somehow the 4 little screws that hold the hot shoe to the camera body can wriggle loose over time, causing the flashgun to wobble.  This can even lead to poor contact between the flashgun and the camera.

Fortunately, it’s a very easy fix.
All you need is a set of jeweler’s screwdrivers.
This image should explain it all …

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how to use the camera’s histogram display for exposure metering

Histograms display the relative levels of the darker to brighter tones. As the histogram stands, it isn’t of much direct use to us, since the tonality of the scene that was captured will dictate what the histogram shows us .. without a direct indication of whether exposure is correct.

Some will say that a histogram should have an even bell-shaped curve, but this is too simplistic.   A light toned subject against a white wall will show a much different histogram that a dark toned subject against a dark wall .. even though the exposure might be correct in both instances.

In both those cases, the actual histogram display might be interesting to look at, but of no real direct use to us. But, here’s how I use the histogram to determine correct exposure

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photographing fireworks, using flash

Photographing people with fireworks in the background, is just an application of the technique known as dragging the shutter.

I had the couple in an area where there wasn’t much ambient light, so that I could light them mostly with flash. The strobe was a Quantum T2 with an umbrella, used in manual.

My flash exposure was determined in that I wanted the couple correctly exposed .. but my actual settings were dictated by my choices made in how I wanted the fireworks to register.

For my fireworks exposure, which is considered the same as ambient light,
I had to juggle the three controls again: shutter speed / aperture / ISO.

That particular photograph was 1 sec @ f6.7 @ 400 ISO

You don’t necessarily want a high ISO setting, since you do want your shutter speed to be slow. Slow enough to record the fireworks as streaks of light. There is a lot of leeway here, and a quick check of your camera’s preview will tell you whether you need to adjust your settings. Therefore your is range should be 100 to 400 ISO. Then your shutter speed is in the region of 1 second or slower. In other words, you need a tripod.

Recording multiple bursts of fireworks by blanking out the frame with a black card is a great idea. This photograph was a single exposure though. By checking my camera to see how other firework bursts recorded, I found that f6.7 @ 400 ISO @ 1 sec gave me enough firework trails and the fireworks itself weren’t over-exposed in the shot.

So using f6.7 @ 400 ISO, I set my Quantum T2 to an appropriate power level, to give me that exposure. (Manual flash in this instance, since my subject was in a specific position in relation to my strobe.)

An exposure of f4.5 @ 200 ISO @ 2 seconds, would’ve given me exactly the same exposure, but the firework trails would’ve been longer. There is a lot of leeway here, and you shouldn’t be bound by specific settings. But my suggestion would be to start at 1 second (or slower) and 400 or 20O ISO, then then chimp to taste.

Note that rear-curtain sync would not have had any effect here, since the couple was static in the frame.

 

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repairing the Canon 580EX hotshoe foot

Since the 580EX has a plastic foot, it is very easy to snap it off in the camera’s hotshoe.
The repair is simple, and the cost of the part from Canon’s Service Center.
The part nr is: CY2-1227-000

This is typical of the damage sustained …

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when a filter on your lens actually gets to protect your lens

.. and this, ladies and gentlemen, is why using a UV filter on your lens is a good idea.

The strange thing is, I have NO idea when this happened during a shoot at a reception venue where I was doing room shots and detail shots. Most of the times I was using two cameras, with the other one slung over my shoulder. At some point I lifted the camera to my eye and noticed rainbow colored diffraction patterns across the image. My immediate reaction was .. huh? My lens is THAT dirty? And then I checked and saw the actual damage.

Whatever caused that impact would’ve destroyed the front element of my lens, so the filter saved me a lot of money there by protecting my lens. (Even then, the filter cost around $110 .. ouch!)
btw, this was with the lens hood in place.

The downside to using a UV filter as a permanent fixture on a lens, is that you risk flare and ghosting whenever the light is coming from the front. A lens hood doesn’t cover all that much when you’re using a wide zoom. A poor grade filter will also lower the contrast of your images.

There is no definitive answer to the endless discussions about the pros and cons of using a UV filter (or similar) in front of a lens – it’s a good idea sometimes, and sometimes it isn’t a good idea. Personally, I use high quality UV filters on all my lenses, but I often have to remove the filter when I am shooting into a light source or suspect I am getting flare. But that’s the beauty of a filter – you can always take it off momentarily if you need to.

An updated article on choosing whether to uses a UV filter on your lens or not.

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composition in photography – tilted compositions / Dutch angle

I am not a huge fan of tilted images, and I see it as an unfortunate visual ‘tic’ when I notice entire wedding galleries by other photographers where pretty much all the images are tilted at a very specific angle. That just means that little thought went into composition, and that composition and holding the camera has become a reflex action .. which just happens to include a 30′ tilt to the camera.

I tend to keep horizontal and vertical lines exactly that way … horizontal or vertical. But sometimes a tilted image just has more impact than one that is completely level. And it has been a “feel” thing for me.  I never bothered to analyze why or when these images seemed to work better, since I have an aversion to over-intellectualized analysis of photography … and in this case composition. I feel that composition should be an instinctive reaction to the scene and subject.

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“There are no rules for good photographs,
there are only good photographs.”
- Ansel Adams

Problems with composition …
Most or all beginners tend to ‘shoot’ pictures – the camera is aimed at the subject and then the shutter is fired. The result is one of most common errors in photographic composition – the feet of the person being photographed are cut off and lots of empty sky or dead branches or irrelevant whatever in the top half of the picture.

Also, focusing screens of manual focus SLRs have the split-image prism or micro-prisms in the center. Most auto-focus cameras also focus on whatever subject is placed in the middle, although the current generation of top-end auto-focus cameras have multi-zone focusing.

Inevitably most camera users photograph their subjects that way – looking at the main subject, dead center of the frame – with disappointing results.

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flash modifiers

May 11, 2007

At various points in the pages on flash photography techniques, I specifically mention where and how one of the popular diffusion cups that clip over a speedlight, wouldn’t have helped, or would’ve given less satisfactory results.

Firstly, you have to realize that all flash modifiers do essentially the same two things
- they spread most of the light all around / upwards,
- they throw a small measure of light forward (to help avoid shadows under the subject’s eyes.

An important thing to remember is that there simply isn’t ONE light modifier that will give you the best results in ALL situations.

And if you do find one that works well in a certain situation, it should remain exactly that – a specific technique you you use in certain situations where it gives you the best results.

Using a diffuser cup, and the angle that you have your speedlight tilted and rotated at, needs to be an active decision based on the specific scenario you’re shooting under. Putting a diffuser cup on, and tilting your flash head to 45′ should never be a mindless default.

Some thought should always go into considering the direction of light that you want from your flashgun. In the same way that you wouldn’t often place your light source directly above your subject in a studio environment, you’d also rarely want to specifically bounce your light from the ceiling directly above your subject.

………………………………………………………

I have the diffusion cups that come with the Nikon SB-800 speedlights, and I have several Stofen diffusers for my Canon 580EX speedlights. I do use them, but mostly with a hole cut in the top of the omnibounce diffuser cup. The reason for this is that it allows me more control in where I want the majority of the light from the flash to be bounced from.

So these omnibounce and diffuser cups do come in handy for specific uses. I also recommend that any photographer who uses flash, have one of these handy in the camera bag.

However, there are some things to keep in mind with these diffuser cups.
Most importantly – the diffuser cup does NOT soften light per se.
It might scatter light, but in itself it doesn’t give you softer light.

The reason for this is that your light source is pretty much the same size with or without the diffuser cup. To get softer light, you need to have a larger light source. That is, a larger light source in relation to your subject and taking distance into account. The sun is a phenomenally large light source, but it is a zillion miles away, and hence a pinpoint light source and therefore gives harsh shadows.

Your flashgun is a small light source, and will therefore give harsh shadows if you just shoot directly without any thought. The only way to get softer light from a strobe, is to make your source of light larger either via an umbrella or diffuser panel, or bouncing the light off a wall or something.

If you’re using the diffuser cup indoors and bouncing your flash, the light from the strobe is scattered and bounces back from the walls and ceiling and that makes the flash light appear a bit softer. But, too much light is still coming directly from the strobe head itself, and that is why it will very often look harsher than flash bounced off other larger surfaces.

Outdoors, using the flash with a diffuser cup, makes very little sense, except for when :
- you need a wider spread of your strobe’s light, since you’re using a wide-angle lens.
(This is valid for indoors as well.)
- you’re working so close to the subject that you’re outside the range of which your strobe (sans diffuser cup) can give you proper TTL range. Then the diffuser cup will help in pulling your strobe’s output within a range that it can still give you properly metered TTL exposures.

Outdoors, “bouncing” at 45` with a diffuser cup, makes very little sense, except for this :
- using the flash in a bounce position gives you an additional 2″ height from your lens’ axis.
Maybe this helps you? Dunno.
- you specifically need that light fall-off from your foreground and up.

I honestly can’t think of any other reason to use the diffuser cup outside, especially in a bounce position. Using your flash outdoors in a 45` bounce position just needlessly eats battery power.
If you do so without having given it clear thought as to why, then you’re an idiot for trying to bounce flash off the clouds. There is nothing to bounce the flash off, and you’re just wasting your batteries, and shortening the lifespan of your speedlight by unnecessarily dumping a lot of charge every time.

Re: the 45′ bounce position with the Stofen diffuser – here is what Stofen says on their website:

Q: Why must I tilt the flash head to 45 degrees?
A: In Non TTL models this is necessary to avoid under exposure caused by light from the Omni hitting the external auto sensor of the flash. In TTL models it gives a better feathering wrap around of the light in the range from close to about 15 feet from the subject. Beyond that point with TTL we find straight on works OK for you.

Where I do use the flash in a near -upright bounce position with (and sometimes without) the diffuser cup, when there is no ceiling to bounce from … is when I am shooting indoors with the 70-200 and I want to reduce the risk of red-eye. That extra 2 or 3 inches might just help somewhat there in reducing chances of red-eye, by getting my flash even further away from my lens axis.

I also specifically use a diffusion cup indoors, when I am working close to a subject, and can’t move back – and don’t want my light to be top-heavy like it would’ve been if I had bounced without a diffuser.

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Nikon D80 custom settings

January 23, 2007

Nikon D80 custom settings

The D80 has 32 custom settings which allows this little camera to be set to your own preferences and needs – and this makes it a very flexible little beast.

This page details my preferences .. and why.

Learn more inside…

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