Is Your Camera Better than Mine – Or Not.

Is your Camera is Better than Mine – Or Not.

I confess, at times I dream about owning a Leica digital rangefinder M-E; German design, hand built precision engineering – think of the pure joy of owning a Porsche, Audi, or BMW. The price of a Leica M-E is a little steep (new price $4,700), which is almost half as much as it cost me to travel around the world for 10 months. And, that price is for the camera body only, add a Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95 ASPH Lens – then tack on an additional $6,000.

I also dream about owning a Canon 5dMark III, or a Nikon 810 with a 36mp million pixel sensor, multi-point autofocus array, matrix metering, Full HD video recording, ultra high ISO, built in flash, external flash control and super high shutter speed  (1/8000). Despite dreaming about the other cameras, I am not complaining about my Fuji-X camera, it is small, light, certainly more stealthy than a large DSLRs.

But the camera I am talking about is my newest camera. It is a F-I-L-M camera (yes kids, one of those cameras that you have to open to put in a small container and load the thin plastic sheet; if you loaded it correctly, you can take up to 36 photos, then remove the film and have it developed…). It is a Revue-3 rangefinder camera, consider it the great grandparent of the Leica M-E (copied by the Russians after World War 2).

Compared to the Leica M-E, Canon 5dMark III, Nikon D810 and my Fuji-X cameras – there are a lot of things the Revue-3 does not have have;

    • It isn’t Digital
    • No Light Meter
    • No Autofocus
    • No WiFi upload
    • No flash sync
    • No +/- exposure compensation dial
    • No Auto white balance (or any adjustment for white balance)
    • No adjustment for ISO
    • No Batteries
    • Not even a neckstrap (or anywhere to attach one)
    • It doesn’t have any exposure modes (Program, Automatic, Aperture priority, Shutter priority, Portrait, Fireworks, Beach, Snow etc…), actually, it doesn’t even have any electronics.

      Despite all the things it doesn’t have – Is your camera better than mine – or Not.

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Most or all, the (Revue-3) camera doesn’t have anything – I am 100% in control.

I do not have a light meter – adjusting for the correct shutter speed an aperture are based on my knowledge, my experience to manually set exposure (shutter speed and aperture; there is no setting for ISO).

So – Really, is your camera better than mine ?. You decide. For me, the bare bones simplicity of the Revue-3 is my way of learning. There is no option to rely on a computer programmed to recognize light conditions to set, or suggest the correct exposure. Through experience and some trail and error – I am learning about exposure, about the quality and intensity of light, learning about the balance of foreground light and background light, learning about exposure in sunny conditions and exposure in cloudy conditions, and most of all learning about myself – how I see the light.

I do not expect that many of my exposures will be correct, or that the image will be in correct focus. What I do expect, is that the process of taking my time to really look at the scene before me, and examining the light, thinking about the balance between the highlights and the shadows, thinking about the direction of light and how it will effect exposure, thinking about shutter speed and how it affects exposure.

And, when I go back to using a fully computerized digital camera, it will instantly display the ‘correct’ exposure. Not only will my computer – (the one in my head), have a more in-depth knowledge and understanding of what all the numbers on the LCD screen mean and why they were chosen. My computer, based on experience gained using a camera without a light meter, will also be able to suggest other values for aperture and shutter speed to over-ride the computer in the camera for an exposure that is more meaningful to me. 

And to those of you that snicker and giggle when you see me taking my time – taking a long time (sometime a long, long time) to think about exposure while you simply push the button on your auto-everything cameras…

So Is Your Camera (Really) better than mine – Or Not.

Why I bought a Fuji-X

I am often asked by friends and family for suggestions for a new camera. It usually comes up in a conversation like this….”I am going on a trip to (town/country), and need a new camera…What should I buy ?”.

Even with two cameras and three lenses, it is less-than half the size and weight of my Nikon photography gear. I like to travel light.
Even with two cameras and three lenses, it is less-than half the size and weight of my Nikon photography gear. I like to travel light.

My answer is always -it depends on what you want to do with it, and what your expectations are. Basically, it boils down to the camera that meets your criteria for size, weight, cost, features and complexity. In its simplest form, a camera is a tool, and it has often be said ‘use the right tool for the job’. The same can be said for photography….’use the right camera for the job’.

My criteria for a new camera included; small-size, low weight, travel camera, at reasonable cost, and one more criteria–

“It Feels Right”

It is a criteria that goes right to your gut, and it isn’t something I can clearly define. Visualize it as wearing the right pants this morning, you had the right amount of milk and sugar in your coffee this morning.

It is abstract, and not something that can be easily defined or described by dollars, size, weight, or any numerical value. It is not hotter or colder, wetter or drier. Instead, consider it as something that you enjoy using…“It Feels Right”. The flipside, if it does not Feel Right – then, chances are, you wont be having fun, and won’t do it, or use it again.

Ask yourself – would Oscar-Claude Monet have painted Water Lilies, using paint brushes, or paint that did not “Feel Right” ?.

Would Henri Cartier-Bresson have used a camera or lens that did not Feel Right

So – Does the Fuji-X Feel Right for you ?.

You decide: check out the features, assess how it performs, check the lenses, pixel-peep the quality of the images, feel the ergonomics, fiddle with the menus. How do you feel when you use it ?. Does it Feel Right to you ?

My criteria for a new camera for 10 months of traveling included a small, light weight interchangable lens camera, that can perform in low light, and produce good quality images, and of course: Feels Right. To decide, I went to my local camera store and played with different cameras, then found the one that simply ‘Feels Right’. It may or may not have been the most cost effective, highest resolution, most megapixels, most popular, or voted ‘best’ camera. It was simply chosen because it ”Feels Right”.

I selected the Fujifilm X-Pro. From the start, the X-Pro feels solid, the overall ergonomics of the camera felt great, and the position and shape of the the dials (shutter speed, exposure compensation and aperture ring on the lens) felt so natural in my hand (improved with the accessory hand grip). Adjusting the shutter speed is easily done by turning the dial between two fingers, and adjusting the exposure compensation is easy by sliding your thumb. All adjustments can be done without removing your eye from the eyepiece. There is no program, or specialized scene mode – manual, automatic, shutter priority, or aperture priority. So simple. Compared to my Nikon D700, the size and weight of the X-Pro is almost negligible, it’s awesome for travel. An added benefit of the small size, is the discreteness of the camera and the ability to really get in close and mingle with the subjects, without being too obtrusive is a really positive.

Although the X-Pro is not technically a ‘rangefinder’ camera, feels like one and takes some getting used to. The optical viewfinder was what lead me to the X-Pro in the first place. The frame lines let me see what is coming into the frame. It works awesome with wide and normal field of view lenses, but after I bought the Fuji XF 55-200mm lens differences in parallax made it impossible to get the camera to focus on the desired location. With the flick of a small lever on the front of the camera, it changes to an electronic viewfinder that corrects for parallax and shows the exact field of view. A couple of months later, I also purchased a Fujifilm X-E1 as a back-up to the X-Pro, and with the added advantage of having a wide angle lens on one camera and a telephoto lens on the other camera. Both the X-Pro and X-E1 can use the same lenses, have the same battery, and same charger. Having spent quality time with both the X-E1/X-Pro, it is often hard to tell which camera I am using – the performance and the external controls are almost the same. Externally, the X-E1 is physically smaller and it has a tiny pop up TTL flash, and only has an electronic viewfinder. As both the X-Pro and X-E1 have electronic viewfinders – you would expect them to be the same – Not. When I wear sunglasses, the view in the electronic viewfinder of the X-Pro (in landscape orientation) is completely black, whereas in portrait orientation the image is viewable. With the X-E1 (and wearing sunglasses) the view is normal in both landscape and portrait orientation. Why ??. So, fortunately, the X-Pro has an optical view finder that I can use wearing sunglasses, and fortunately, the electronic viewfinder on the X-E1 displays correctly. Both the X-Pro and X-E1 have a +/-2EV exposure compensation dial on the top-right corner that is easily rotated off ‘0’ when handling the camera out of the camera bag. Sometimes it is a pain in the ass, though, on the positive side, it is easy to rotate with my thumb without removing my eye from the viewfinder.

One other feature that won me over to the Fuji-X cameras are the small, light very fast, high quality Fuji-X lenses, and the shallow sensor to flange distance that with appropriate adapters allows other lenses to be used. I’ve got adapters for Nikon, Canon and Leica-R, and someday, might even try a Leica-M and Contax-G lens. With adapters, all lenses are manual focus, which isn’t too bad using focus peaking, though a ‘green dot’ focus confirmation as in the Nikon D700 would make focus-verification easier. Autofocus in Fujifilm X-Pro and X-E1 are good enough for most situations, but not known to be super fast (Note – autofocus in the X-E2 and X-T1 are apparently much faster). I never use ‘Continuous AF’, which literally means continuous focus, and runs continuously even when the shutter button has not been pressed.

Finally, the Quality of the images – this is where using a X-Pro/X-E1 “Feels Right”. Both the Fujifilm X-Pro and X-E1 cameras use the same APS-C X-Trans sensor resulting in fantastic colors and detail, and the images are completely usable and noise images free up to 6400 ISO – which is better than my full frame Nikon D700 DSLR.

As a travel camera, my X-Pro and X-E1 have performed near flawlessly, through humid jungles of Thailand, high altitude mountain treks in Nepal, in the hot and dry Australian outback, dropped in sand on a beach in Turkey, and my camera bag has been thrown aboard buses, trucks, trains, rickshaw, and on the roof of taxis (not even tied down). The weirdest glitch is between the X-E1 and 14mm, they are simply not compatible !. With the 14mm lens, the X-E1 camera locks up, the LCD goes black and flashes. When the camera is turned on/off it repeats. I removed the battery, upgraded the firmware on both lens and body, no effect. I just plan to not use 14mm on X-E1 !.

Unfortunately, just before publishing this post, the Fuji XF 18-55mm lens broke !. For some reason the lens, when attached to the camera, the error message on the camera LCD says “Lens Control Error”. After contacting Fuji, and confirming that the lens is still under warranty, although is has to be sent back to the country of purchase – which for me is Canada. So – for this lens to be repaired under Warranty, it has to be sent to Canada, at my expense, then sent back to me – currently traveling in Europe (again at my expense). Shipping the lens across the Atlantic Ocean – twice, is going to add probably more than half the value of the lens !. Surely, a large, International company like Fuji – can work something out with it international partners so that the stupidity of sending a lens back and forth across from Europe to Canada then back to Europe can be avoided….maybe someday !.

 

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Both cameras are now showing some wear and tear. There is black paint scuffed off from the corners exposing the shiny grey metal and a few small dents. Consider this cosmetic wear as creases on a farmers hands – they show life !. At times, during my travels, I confess to having camera envy, seeing other tourists carrying Nikon D4s, D800/810, Canon 5dMkIII, or Leica M9. It could be me, carrying my two D700’s, a 17-35mm lens (or the 14-24mm), and a 70-200mm but that would be 15 kg of camera gear instead, of my Fujifilm gear (two bodies and three lenses) weighing only 6 kg (with the camera bag). Then I remembered that the X-Pro/X-E1 is a very capable camera and there is a lot of appeal traveling with a smaller, travel-friendly camera with high image quality as opposed to hauling around a lot of heavy gear. All the more energy to enjoy my surroundings !.

Bottom line – the Fujifilm X-Pro and X-E1 “Feels Right”, and is the Right tool to suit my photography needs.

Around the World with Fuji-X series (X-Pro & X-E1)

A post about camera gear.

I’ve dreaded writing this post for fear of being ‘labelled/classified’ as one of those camera gear – type people.

This post in reply to the emails and Facebook messages lately asking what camera gear I am using while travelling around the world for 10 continuous months. I have both the Fujifilm X-series X-Pro and X-E1 cameras, and the answer to the other question. No – I am not selling my Nikon camera gear. There, two questions answered !.

Those that know me, know that I have a large collection of Nikon camera gear. So – why not bring my usual Nikon gear ?. Travelling for 10 months to foreign places is the ultimate photo opportunity. By experience, I have learned to always carry two camera bodies – each body with a different lens; one body with a wide angle lens, and the other body with a telephoto lens. Having two bodies, also provides the security of a backup if one camera breaks (lesson learned). Although the D700 and with a (14-24mm /17-35mm) wide angle lens, and (85mm / 70-200mm) telephoto lens combination is absolutely fantastic, I did not want to be burdened with the size and weight of all that camera gear. I wanted to travel relatively light, and not be overly noticeable as a photographer with camera gear dangling from my neck, or carried in a specialized camera bag that seems to advertise ‘steal me / rob me’.

Based on the anticipated use during the travels; predominantly street, with some landscape and general travel documentary photography, and after researching other brands, I settled on the Fuji X system since these cameras are an excellent compromise between size, weight, features, and quality. As per usual I bought two cameras – the (at the time flagship model) X-Pro, and the X-E1. Between the X-Pro and X-E1 there are a lot of similarities; both use the same sensor (I cannot see any difference between the images taken using the X-E1 or X-Pro), both use the same battery and flash, the camera controls are almost the same, and both cameras are roughly the same size and weight (although the X-E1 is a little smaller and lighter). The biggest difference is that the X-E1 has a tiny (but effective) pop-up flash, and the X-Pro is slightly larger and has a hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder.

For lenses, I brought the Fuji 14mm f/2.8, 18-55mm f/2.8-4 and 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8. I would have loved to have brought the Fujifilm 35mm f/1.4 as well. Enroute, bought a Samyang 8mm fisheye mostly for panoramas and street photography (this lens is manual focus; whereas Fuji lenses are all fly-by-wire and re-set each time the camera is turned on/off). Compared to the Nikon lenses, the Fuji (and Samyang) lenses are light-weight. The two cameras fit in a non-descript, black Timbuk2 saddle bag with room to spare for one extra lens, extra batteries, extra memory cards, filters, lens cleaning cloth, a water bottle, notepad and pen, water bottle, sunglasses other smaller items …and a 6-pack of beer !.

Complete list of camera gear:

  • Fuji X-Pro (with hand grip)
  • Fuji X-E1 (with DIY hand grip)
  • Fuji 14mm, 18-55mm, 55-200mm lenses
  • Samyang 8mm lens
  • Fuji flash X20
  • 5x batteries, and charger
  • UV filters for all lenses, except 8mm
  • Hoya 8xND and circular polarizer
  • Manfrotto tripod head (494RC2), Cullmann tripod (Nanomax 260) – carrying it almost got me shot !
  • MacBook Pro + 2x external hard drives
  • Lowepro soft lens case
  • Lowepro hip pack (fits inside the Timbuk2 bag)
  • Timbuk2 shoulder bag
  • SD card reader, lens cleaning cloths, Arctic Butterfly sensor cleaning brush

Thus far, at 7 months into the journey my camera gear has travelled through humid jungles of Thailand, high altitude mountain treks in Nepal, in the hot and dry Australian outback, dropped in sand on a beach in Turkey, and my camera bag has been thrown aboard busses, trucks, trains, rickshaw, and on the roof of taxis (not even tied down). I have leaned a lot about how well the X-E1 and X-Pro perform in these diverse environmental conditions – for the most part they performed well, although not without flaws. On a couple of occasions gigantic blobs of dust appeared on the sensor, and could not be removed by the built on sensor-shake-cleaner, requiring a cleaning with an Arctic Butterfly sensor cleaning brush. Autofocus is slow, though this has been greatly improved in X-E2 and X-T1 – so do not plan to use the X-E1 or X-Pro for sports or nature (e.g. flying birds) photography. Both the X-E1 and X-Pro have EV-compensation dials that are easily rotated off ‘0’, resulting in over or under exposed images. Neither cameras weather sealing (X-T1 does), so use a clear plastic bag when photographing a water ballon fight (e.g. Holi – Festival of Color in Nepal). Burst shooing at six frames/second ? – forget it, unless you want your camera to lock up for several minutes while the camera writes the images to the memory card. The weirdest glitch is between the X-E1 and 14mm, they are simply not compatible !. With the 14mm lens, the X-E1 camera locks up, the LCD goes black and flashes. When the camera is turned on/off it repeats. I removed the battery, upgraded the firmware on both lens and body, no effect. I just plan to not use 14mm on X-E1 !.

Using a Fuji X-E1 or X-Pro is unlike using a DSLR; the entire process and feeling is different. Simply- you have to enjoy using the cameras, and know what you are doing, and adjust your photography technique. Read other blogs, and read that some people have a ‘Love Hate Relationship’ with their X-E1/X-Pro. For me, it is the right tool for the job; I love the size, I love the weight (or lack of weight), I love the ergonomics of the X-Pro (whereas my D700 feels like a 5 pound brick), I love the colours of the photos, and I love that the images do not need much post processing. An added advantage of the smaller X-Pro and X-E1 cameras is that they are far more discrete that a full-size DSLR, I never stood out as a photographer, and blended into the role of tourist giving me far more freedom and access than if I had a large DSLR around my neck.

Will I sell the Fuji cameras when I get home and go back to Nikon DSLR, or keep the X-E1/X-Pro and sell the Nikon ?.

Neither – I will keep both the Fuji cameras and the Nikon. My style of photography is quite diverse; ranging from landscape, portrait, sports, wildlife, private and commercial work. Both the large Nikon and small Fuji are capable cameras, though both are completely different in capabilities. Choosing one or the other depends on the requirements of the situation. One blogger even referred to the “thoughtful” shooter – that is, you take the time to compose your image properly, check your settings, etc.

Should you buy a X-E1/X-Pro ?.

No – I’d recommend getting either the X-E2, X-T1 or waiting until the X-Pro2 is released.

Bottom line. I am very happy with my Fuji cameras and lenses, they may not be the ‘best’ travel cameras – though they are significantly smaller, and lighter than large DSLRs, and produce beautiful pictures time after time.

 

My camera is Black – but not a Black Box

My camera is Black – but not a Black Box

During the past few months, I’ve travelled from Canada to Thailand, Australia, Nepal and Turkey by airplane. As we all know, large commercial airplanes have ‘black boxes’ that record the parameters of flight such as altitude, engine performance and pilot conversations.

In many ways, my camera is also a black box. It records the parameters of the photo – shutter speed, aperture, time and date. However, unlike airplane black boxes, the camera does not record my conversation while composing the photo. Not that I talk out loud while composing a photo – Imagine for a moment that the camera could record my mental conversations, thoughts, and envision for what I am seeing in the scene in front of me. 

Steve to camera – ‘I am taking this picture because…’

Steve to camera – ‘Lets slow down the shutter speed to blur the people walking by…’

Steve to camera – ‘What if I moved a bit to the left…’

Steve to camera – ‘Lets see what happens if we add +1 exposure to reduce the backlight …’

Steve to camera – ‘What if I…’

Sheikh Zayed Mosque

This collection of images were taken at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi (the capital the United Arab Emirates). Architecturally stunning and large enough to accommodate 40,000 worshippers, the mosque was constructed from 1996 to 2007. There are 82 roof-top domes, more than 1,000 columns, 24 carat gold gilded chandeliers, and contains marble stone, gold, semi-precious stones, crystals and ceramics. and the world’s largest hand knotted carpet. Photo technique: All photos were taken handheld (tripods are not allowed), with the camera braced against a wall or column. Three long exposure photos (-1, 0, +1 exposure) were combined to ghost the other visitors. Photos combined in PhotoMatrix Pro. Fuji X-E1 with XF 18-55mm lens.

Click on an photo to make it larger, and use the arrows to move to the next photo.

 

 

 

In Nepal carrying a Tripod can be Dangerous to your Health !

Carrying a tripod in Nepal almost got me shot by Nepal Police, and had Army soldiers walk by with ‘safety off’ on their rifles.

It all started in Nagrakot (an hours drive north of Kathmandu), while walking through a Police checkpoint. I’d passed through this check point several times before, even with my camera tripod attached to my backpack, and had no problems. On this fateful day, I was carrying the tripod in my hand as I approached the checkpoint. At about 10 meters away the Police suddenly, and without warning started shouting at me, and pointed his rifle at my chest. I could not understand what he was saying – though the way he was waving his rifle, is seemed to mean …’drop ….drop’. With my eyes locked on the rifle, I slowly moved my arms away from my body, and lowered the tripod and placed it on its legs on the ground. In my right hand, I was holding my camera with a wrist strap. I placed the camera on the tripod, and carefully slid off the wrist strap and backed away. Seconds later, though it seemed like forever, another Policeman came running from behind me. He was angry, really angry and saying ‘camera…click..click’. I thought I was going to piss my pants. The second Policeman ran in front of me toward the first Policeman still with the rifle pointed at me, yelling something. The first Policeman then lowered his rifle (a World War 2 vintage Lee Enfield), then spat on the ground and flicked his thumb toward the path and went inside his guard post !.

A few hours later, walking along the main road and passing a military base I saw a small hill on the other side of the rood. The small hill overlooked the valley below and had a superb view of the mountains in the distance. I headed over, checked out the view, took a few pictures, had a snack. The moment I unstrapped the camera tripod from my backpack – three soldiers came running over. Fortunately, none were carrying weapons. One said – “You are not allowed to be here”, to which I replied “I am sorry, there were no fences or signs”. He smiled, and said, “Yes – you are correct”. As we walked back to the road, we talked about Canada, and his memories of eating ‘beaver tails’ in Ottawa. We shook hands and he went back to his guard post.

Not even 20 minutes later still walking along the same road, a group of approximately 30 Nepali soldiers approached. Again, I was carrying the camera in one hand, and the tripod in the other hand. Each soldier was carrying a rifle – the very same rifles that I had used as a young cadet in the Canadian Armed Forces 17 years ago. These were the FN FAL rifles, and as each soldier walked past, I could see that the safety switch was set to ‘Off’, and their index fingers were resting on the trigger guard. These soldiers were ready for shooting !. Through the corner of my sunglasses, I could see that they were not lokig at my eyes, but at the tripod in my arm. Not wanting to disturb them, the best thing to do was to continue, and not make any sudden movements, or stop to attach the tripod to my backpack.

So – be warned. To the eyes of a Nepali Policeman or Nepali Soldier – a camera tripod is a threat, and if you are not careful, carrying a camera tripod can be hazardous to your Health.

 

On guard for tripod carrying tourists in Nepal.
On guard for tripod carrying tourists in Nepal. I walked past him a few hours before – without problem; with the tripod strapped to my backpack.

 

Rush Hour in Kathmandu

In Kathmandu (Nepal) it is always ‘rush hour’; bicycles, bicycle-rickshaws, motorcycles, three-wheeled tuktuks, cars, vans, buses and trucks or all shapes and sizes are constantly honking as they weave between each other, passing on the inside lane, passing on the outside lane, and occasionally sharing the lane with on-coming traffic. Add pedestrians, farm tractors, two-wheeled tractors and wandering cows – and it all gets real interesting.  There seem to be no traffic rules, or they are simply ignored. The vans photographed below, had were packed with up to 30 people – far beyond their recommended occupancy limit, and were excessively overloaded

This is a small selection of traffic related photos taken at sunset in Kathmandu, February 20, 2015. Click on the first thumbnail and it will enlarge. Form there you can scroll through the larger images to see the whole collection.

All photos taken with a Fuji X-E1 with XF 14mm, or Fuji X-PRO1 with XF 55-200mm.

 

 

 

 

After the strong (7.8) earthquake that struck the Kathmandu Valley on April 25, 2015 and the many aftershocks, many of the modern and historic buildings and roads shown in these photos have been extensively damaged or destroyed, and thousands of deaths and injuries.

 

 

If Henry Ford made cameras

Imagine if Henry Ford made cameras. Henry Ford didn’t invent the automobile, he pioneered techniques for apply assembly line manufacturing to the mass production of affordable automobiles. The Ford Model ‘T’ was designed to be simple to operate, maintain and affordable.

The Ford Model ‘T’ was in production for 19 years, and within 10 years of its introduction, more than half the cars in America were Model T’s. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Ford).

Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.

Henry Ford. Remark about the Model T in 1909, published in his autobiography My Life and Work (1922) Chapter IV, p. 71.

So what does this mean to photographers ?. Imagine, if Henry Ford designed and made cameras  – they would be simple to operate, in-expensive, there would be a lot of them on the roads, and they would all be the same.

The point of all this being – most photographers would be using the same camera. There would be no more endless debates on camera brand X being better than brand Y, and no more discussion about ‘some photographers are better because they have better gear’.

The greatest benefit of all photographers having the same camera would be that the great photographers would still be great, and still be able to produce truly inspiration photographs. As for the want-to-be great photographers they would no longer be asking which brand of camera they should buy, or simply buying professional-quality cameras because they think a better camera would lead to better photographs. Instead, the want-to-be better photographers could concentrate on the act and action of photography, and explore their surroundings and thoughts while pressing the shutter.

 

Adding Light using Flash

When the Light isn’t Right: Photography in low light or too much light.

Any keen photographer will tell you that the best light for photography is the ‘magic-hour’ at sunrise and at sunset, and that mid-day or low-light photography should be avoided. For the rest of us, there is a whole day in between and, like it or not, it is our only opportunity to get photos. We simply can’t put life on-hold to wait for the so-called magic-hour. So, how do you get good photos when the light isn’t Right ?.

At any given light, good light or bad light, camera exposure is based on three variables;

  1. Shutter speed (how long the shutter is open). Faster shutter speeds can freeze motion are used when there is good light, where as slower shutter speeds blur moving objects. You might have already noticed that some of you low light photos are blurry. This is because a slow shutter speed is required in low light conditions to allow enough light into the camera for proper exposure. Unless you have a tripod, the shutter speed should be 1/ the focal length of the lens, e.g. a 250mm lens would require a minimum shutter speed of 1/250sec.
  2. Aperture (how much light comes in the lens). In good light conditions, the lens can be intentionally stopped-down (higher aperture number) to reduce the amount of light entering the camera, and increase the depth of field.
  3. ISO or film speed (how sensitive the sensor of film is to light).  Lower the ISO the better. Higher ISO (800, 1200 and higher) adjust the sensitivity of the camera sensor of film to be more sensitive to light, so that photos can be taken is lower light conditions. Unfortunately, this means more more digital noise, and photos that look murky or muddy.

Adding light by using a flash changes everything. Most digital cameras have built-in flash, so you always have a flash when you need extra light. The down side of built-in flash is the quality of light; harsh and people will have red-eye.

If you can, buy a hand held flash unit and a cable to connect the flash to the camera or wireless trigger. This is called off-camera flash. Once you get into it – there is no going back.

Adding Flash

As mentioned above, adding flash (assuming off-camera flash), changes everything for camera exposure. Depending on your camera, flash units are synched to fire at 1/60, 1/125 or 1/250 of a second. If you set your shutter speed higher than your camera’s synch speed the image will be black, or partially black since the flash fired while the the shutter was already closing.

When using a flash, your can set the camera to Auto, or Program and let the camera work out the correct exposure, or set the camera to M for Manual so you can maximize the creative opportunity to over or under expose the background and make the foreground have more ‘Pop’.

In Manual mode

1) Set the shutter speed to the camera’s flash sync speed. You might have to refer to the camera manual to determine your cameras sync speed.

2) Point the camera at the background and set aperture according to the cameras light meter. Do not adjust the ISO – low number is better. The camera is now set to the correct exposure for the background. Some photographers call this “ambient exposure”.

3) Now turn on your flash. It can be set to automatic (TTL) where the flash power is controlled by the camera. This is useful for moving subjects. Setting the flash to Manual means that the flash power is controlled by you. This mode is most useful for portraits, or where you want to fine tune the exposure.

Assuming that you want control over the flash power, now it gets really fun and also a bit complicated.  One step at a time.

  • a) Flash in manual mode means you control the Flash Power. Typical flash power settings are 1/1 (full power), 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/16.
  • b) Off camera flash means you control the Direction of the flash hitting the subject.
  • c) Off camera flash means you control the Flash-Subject Distance. Flash held closer to the subject means less flash power is needed, distant subjects will require more flash power for proper exposure.
  • d) Assuming that your camera is also in Manual mode, with shutter speed set to sync speed. The lens Aperture (controls how much light enters the camera), and also be used to control exposure.  If the subject is overexposed, then reduce the aperture (turn to higher aperture number) : e.g. change aperture f/5.6 to f/8. If the subject is underexposed, then increase aperture.

e)  Other ways to change effect of the flash

  • 1) How does the light from the flash hit the subject. Is the light harsh, creating dark shadows, or more soft with smooth transitions on the subject. Add a diffuser (e.g. softbox or umbrella) to reduce harsh shadows.
  • 2) Coverage: is the flash directed at the entire subject, or only on a portion of the subject. Coverage can be modified (reduced) by zooming the flash, moving the flash closer to the subject, or adding a diffuser.

 

Go ahead – take a photo. See how it looks and make adjustments.