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.


recommended filters: polarizers

Aside from UV filters for protection, I would also recommend a polarizer filter. They are great for minimizing glare and to saturate colors again.


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.


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.

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With film based cameras, you would’ve had to change film and filters in an attempt to correct for color casts during the moment of taking the photograph.

But with digital cameras, life is so much easier with built-in white balance settings. Yet, deciding on the correct white balance to use with a digital camera, seems to strike fear in the hearts of many new photographers …

In short, this is how I handle White Balance settings on my cameras …

1) My cameras are set to the closest appropriate WB setting, whether Daylight, Cloudy, etc.
2) I shoot in RAW.
3) With a RAW work-flow, it is no effort afterward to change the WB setting on multiple images.
4) A calibrated monitor gives me a neutral reference point.

There – it is as simple as that.
I try to get it as close as possible, but without stressing it.
Then I finesse it in post-processing.

Now the details …

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“What general words of advice do you have for new photographers ?”

I would say that 90% of emails that I get where people are unhappy with their cameras, have to do with not understanding the basics of exposure metering. This is especially true for newcomers to digital photography.

So you used to get great results with your F5, but the D200 gives you poor results?  Well, if you’ve been shooting slide film, then you might be onto something here, but most photographers used color negative film before trying digital.  And here’s the thing that you weren’t aware of – your lab has been correcting for all your errors in exposure all this time. But with digital, you get to see exactly what you’re doing. Your photographs come out too dark? Then it is something *you* are doing, or not doing. Trust me on this one.

So my general words of advice would be:
- understand how to use your camera’s light-meter more effectively.
- use manual exposure metering all of the time,
- get to understand exposure metering, but also
- know why centering the needle is quite often not the ‘correct exposure’,
- read up on the Zone System and adapt it for yourself,
- understand the histogram and how to interpret it,
- use the blinking highlights feature and when to interpret it.

All of which often leads to the next point …

“I’ve read the manual, but what do these buttons and dials actually DO ?”

Questions that come up all too often pertain to basic operations of a camera, such as apertures and shutter speeds.

So if you …

- need to know what an aperture is,
- and why changing the aperture affects depth of field,
- and what depth of field is,
- and why a slow shutter speed causes blur,

… then it is important that you stop dawdling! Get yourself a good general book on photography with lots of photos to illustrate these concepts to you.

Without grasping these basic tenets of photographic technique, your results will always remain hit-and-miss.

Think about it this way, if you have just bought an expensive D-SLR, with more money invested in lenses and a flashgun as well .. then it makes good sense to invest another $40 on a good book to help you actually make good use of your new toys.

And now a bit of tough love for those photographers who rationalize not wanting to read a book, by saying they learn best from being shown … well, you are reading this aren’t you?  Stop indulging yourself.  Without grasping the basics of photographic technique, you will only keep yourself back as a photographer.


bouncing flash behind me

September 13, 2006

bouncing flash behind me – what am I bouncing off?

I’ve had a fair number of people writing in to tell me that they don’t quite understand what I am bouncing the flash off when I bounce behind me into an open room.

What is happening there, is that I am usually at a wide f-stop and a fairly high ISO – something like f2.8 and 800 ISO. This usually means that ANY light that bounces back from various objects in a room, will register in the image. The light from the strobe bounces back from furniture, other objects, part of the ceiling, some of the walls to the side. You’re in effect just flooding the entire place with light from your strobe – and at f2.8 it will register. Obviously it depends on the size of the room, etc. But just try it. :-)

Especially when you are using flash to augment the available light – you simply don’t need a lot of flash to have some effect.


Nikon D70 wireless TTL flash

September 8, 2006

I’ve had a number of email queries about using wireless TTL flash with the D70. So even though the D70 manual (p.150-151) is quite thorough on this, I think that the abundance of information might be overwhelming to someone who wants to set it up the first time.

I’m offering this as a quickie guide to getting wireless i-TTL flash going on your D70, even though there is no information here that isn’t clearly explained in the manual.

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