30 May

We’re Off to Iceland!

It seems Iceland is a popular place these days for photographers! We’re jumping on the bandwagon by going with a group of friends on a photo tour of this incredibly picturesque country. Our photo guide is Tim Vollmer with Esja Travel, so this is a vacation for us! And since we’re on vacation, we decided not to bring our laptop which means things are going to be silent here on the oopoomoo blog until we get back June 17. No email, no business administration no endless lists of ‘must dos’…just experiencing Iceland. Wow, it’s going to be great!

Gone Shootin'

Gone Shootin'!

We’re leaving you with a few things to read/think about while we’re gone. First, highlights of the spring have definitely been:

  • our little experiment with the Destination Travel Workshop in Fernie, British Columbia (June 25-28, 2012) — Read about our crazy ‘Pay What It’s Worth’ idea here. There’s still space!
  • announcing that David duChemin is coming to town next March, 2013. Last word was the All Inclusive Passes are more than half gone so don’t delay if you’re interested in this great event! And if you enter the photo contest while we’re away, don’t worry; you’ll hear from us when we’re home. (Two days left for the May contest…)
  • publication on oopoomoo of our 11th eBook, Essential and Advanced Filters for Creative Outdoor Photography — phew! Our brains hurt.

In case you get lonely here at oopoomoo without us around, here are a whole bunch of free articles to browse through. We hope you find something to tickle your shutter button. We’ll share our adventures and images with you when we get back. ‘Till then, happy shooting!

Why Every Landscape Photographer Should USe Filters – Still!

How to Photograph Waterfalls

7 Advantages of Using Tilt Shift Lenses

Beyond the Rectangle: There is More to Photography than the 3:2 Ratio

Shooting Blind for Better Action Portraits of Dogs

Telephoto Lenses for High Impact Landscape Imagery

Filter Tutorials

The Minimal Upgrade

RAW VS JPEG: Take the Quiz!

Winter Blues: Enhancing Mood in Monochrome

How to Create Great Nature Photos No Matter Where You Live

 

19 May

How to Photograph Waterfalls

At the end of May, Samantha and I will be heading to Iceland with a bunch of friends to soak up the sights of this beautiful country. Part of Iceland’s natural attractions are waterfalls so we thought it was a good time to pass on a few waterfalls tips not only to remind us of what we should be doing but also to help out any of you that are planning some outings near roaring water. Even though photographers and waterfalls go together like peanut butter and jam or beer and pizza, the images that result are often less than palatable. Below are a few common mistakes that are easy to avoid and some simple tips that will take your waterfall photos to the next level. And if you want to learn where some of the waterfalls in the photos below are located just click on the photo and you’ll be directed to one of our location eBooks.

©Darwin Wiggett - Photographer at Nigel Falls, Banff NP

Lighting 

The most common error we see with waterfall photography is that the photographer paid no attention to the lighting on the subject. The vast majority of beginners shoot waterfalls in bright mid-day sun with part of the waterfall in shade and part in direct sun. Digital sensors can’t record such extreme detail in tonality well, and the resulting image is often a mixed bag of blown out highlights and cavernous shadows. Yech!

The easiest way to overcome contrast problems is to shoot waterfalls under even light. Overcast days are perfect for waterfalls because the flat light reduces contrast so that everything from the shining droplets of water to dark rocks and deep canyons is rendered with detail. The image below of Cline Canyon shows how grey overcast days are perfect for waterfall photography because the sensor can capture the detail in the entire scene. Come here on a sunny day and the results would look terrible!

©Darwin Wiggett - Cline Canyon, Kootenay Plains, Alberta

The image of Mary Ann Falls in Nova Scotia also shows the power of overcast light for rendering rich detail. Be sure to use a polarizing filter even on overcast days to remove reflective highlights off of leaves and water for richer photos!

©Darwin Wiggett - Mary Ann Falls, Nova Scotia

But hey, what if it’s a sunny day when you get to your favorite waterfall?  Well then you can still get good photos if you photograph the falls when they are entirely lit by the sun with little or no part of the falls in the shadows like we see in the photo of the American Falls at Niagara Falls below.

©Darwin Wiggett - American Falls, Niagara Falls

Or better yet, if its sunny, shoot the waterfall when the sun is low on the horizon and the range of contrast across the scene is further reduced. A side benefit to shooting waterfalls when the sun is on the horizon is that you will get rainbows. Rainbows form in the mist of frontally lit falls when the axis of the sun to the falls is less than 30 degrees. This happens most often when the sun is low on the horizon. So if the waterfall you plan to shoot faces east or west, plan to be there in early morning or late afternoon respectively to get rainbows.

©Samantha Chrysanthou - The Natural Bridge at sunset, Yoho NP

©Darwin Wiggett - Takakkaw Falls, Yoho NP

One of our favorite lighting schemes for waterfalls is backlighting. If we can get behind the falls and have the sun shine through the water, or if we can get the rising or setting sun to skim over the water and light the mist from the falls, then  we can come away with images that are different from the standard photos taken of waterfalls.

©Darwin Wiggett - Rushing River, Ontario

©Darwin Wiggett - Horseshoe Falls, Niagara Falls

Shutter Speed Effects

When shooting waterfalls it is helpful to keep these three guidelines in mind. A shutter speed of 1/60 to 1/125 of a second will render the movement of water similar to what the human eye sees. Faster shutter speeds like 1/1000 of a second or higher will usually show the water captured as suspended droplets while shutter speeds slower than 1/8 of a second will render the falls as a delicate veil (obviously for slow shutter speeds you’ll need a tripod). Your job as a photographer is to decide which shutter speed to use to get the feel and look you desire. As a general rule, delicate small waterfalls benefit from slow shutter speeds for the soft lacy look while big thunderous falls look great at stop-action speeds.

©Darwin Wiggett - Panther Falls, Banff NP

The photo of Panther Falls (above) was shot using 1/100 of a second to show the water movement like the human eye perceives it while the photo of water spraying over a rock (below) was taken at 1/1000 of a second to suspend the water drops in time.

©Darwin Wiggett - North Saskatchewan River - Banff NP

In the next photo of Decew Falls, a slow shutter speed of 1/8 of a second was used to make the waterfall look more delicate with strands of falling water.

©Darwin Wiggett - Decew Falls, Ontario

Filters for Waterfalls

Warm-toned Polarizer 

A warming polarizer is an essential filter for waterfall photography. It is best used on overcast days not only to remove reflective glare but also to counteract the blue cast of overcast light. In the two photos below, the left image shows a waterfall scene (Cat Creek Falls in Kananaskis) photographed without a polarizer while the photo on the right shows the same scene photographed with a warming polarizer. The differences are remarkable! And a polarizer is simple to use: just spin it around on your lens and what you see is what you get. Warming polarizers are available from almost every filter manufacturer so check with your local camera store.

©Darwin Wiggett - Cat Creek Falls, Kananaskis - No polarizer (left image), warming polarizer (right image)

Gold-N-Blue or Blue-Yellow Polarizer 

Rather than remove reflective glare, these filters colour reflections either blue or gold depending with the rotation of the filter. On overcast days, water and wet rocks take on a grey sheen which suck the life out of the photo. The Cokin Blue-Yellow Polarizer or the Singh-Ray Gold-N-Blue Polarizer can bring the life back by adding colour to the scene.  We can see the effects in the image below; the top version is without any filter while the second and third versions are with the Singh-Ray Gold-N-Blue Polarizer rotated to gold and then to blue.

©Darwin Wiggett - Gold-N-Blue Filter Results - Yoho NP

We especially like to use this filter in scenes where the spray from the waterfall has soaked the surrounding rocks so that these wet rocks take on a dramatic sheen of gold or blue depending on how you rotate the filter.

©Samantha Chrysanthou - Nigel Falls, Banff NP

©Darwin Wiggett - Mistaya Canyon, Banff NP

©Darwin Wiggett - Mistaya Canyon

Neutral Density filter 

This filter simply reduces the amount of light coming into your camera so you can use a longer shutter speed for special effects. For example, on a sunny day at ISO 100, proper exposure for front lit waterfalls is 1/60 at f22. But what if you want to use ¼ of a second for misty effects? You are already stopped down to f22 and you can’t lower your ISO any more. The solution is a neutral density (ND) filter. These come in strengths of 2 to 8 stops. Let’s say you have a 5-stop ND filter with you. Pop it in front of your lens and magically your exposure of 1/60 of a second at f22 becomes ½ second at f22! Fortunately, you won’t have to do the math to get your filter to work; your camera meter will figure it out for you. We use an ND filter whenever we want to create a misty ethereal look to our waterfall photos. The photo below of Tangle Falls in Jasper National Park was made using a 5-stop ND filter to give a shutter speed of two seconds.

©Darwin Wiggett - Tangle Falls, Jasper NP

To learn more about filters stay tuned for our new eBook on Essential and Advanced Filters for Nature Photography that will be released before the end of May!

Putting it all together 

Good waterfall photos are not just off-the-cuff endeavours; it takes planning and hard work to create strong images. Our first visit to a new waterfall is really about scouting for the potential in the scene. Is this spot best at sunrise, mid-day, sunset, or under overcast light? What shutter speed will render the falls the way we want to portray them? Do we need filters to enhance the scene?  Once we decide how we want to portray the falls then we put all our techniques together to give us images that are strong and attractive. We hope to bring back some wonderful waterfall images from our time in Iceland – stay tuned!

©Darwin Wiggett - Cataract Pass, Whitegoat Wilderness

5 May

Beyond the Rectangle; There’s More to Photography than the 3:2 Ratio

This article was first published in the fall of 2010 in Outdoor Photography Canada magazine. Support a great photo magazine and get a subscription!

Beyond the Rectangle

When we think of a photograph, we envision a rectangular image. We capture our photographic vision constrained in rectangular frames with an aspect ratio of 3:2 (dSLR’s) or 4:3 (point-n-shoots). It’s a rare photographer that strays from the rectangle. Even the few photographers who use square format cameras most often crop their images after the fact to present the final work as a rectangle.

Scientists have determined that humans’ natural view of the world is a horizontal oval and as such a horizontal rectangular frame best approximates our world view. No wonder the vast majority of images are composed in horizontal format —  this is naturally the way we see the world.

The point of this article is simple: if you want to shake things up with your photographs, one of the easiest things to do is stay away from the everyday horizontal rectangle.

©Samanatha Chrysanthou - Flow Lake Trail, Kootenay NP

The image above shows the standard 3:2 format of most dSLR cameras.

Vertical Rectangles

Vertical images are less natural and less comfortable for us to view than are horizontal images. A vertical rectangle just by orientation creates visual tension so subjects that work with this tension will make the vertical photo all the more powerful. Most people prefer vertical images that are not too elongated; for example, the 4:3 ratio of the point-n-shoot or medium format camera better lends itself to vertical presentation than does the 3:2 format of 35mm. To really make a vertical image from a 35mm camera sing compositionally, you either need a naturally occurring vertical subject (human figure, trees, or tall buildings) or you need to have strong elements of design that take your eye through the picture space in a dynamic fashion.

For example in the photo below, the gravel path and the handrail create a line leading down the lake and to the large spruce tree on the left. The sense of movement in this image is amplified by the vertical rectangle which lends a powerful resonance to this photo.

©Samantha Chrysanthou - Johnson Lake, Banff NP

Squares

The square is one of the most difficult formats to successfully make a composition within because it is a very stable and symmetrical shape. If you have a subject matter that lends itself to perfect symmetry like a mirrored reflection of a lake or a perfectly circular and symmetrical flower, then a square frame works well to amplify this symmetry.

It’s hard to escape a square’s powerful geometry which forces viewers into the center of the frame. One of the ways around this problem is to use two different portions of the composition like the right side of the frame and the left side of the frame to bring the photo into symmetrical balance.

For example, in the photo bel0w, the square frame is split in the middle vertically with the canoe on the right side balancing the mountain on the left side. As well the big portion of sky in the upper right balances the big portion of water and rocks in the lower left.

©Darwin Wiggett - Lower Waterfowl Lake, Banff NP

The most obvious way to make square images is to crop your rectangular images to a perfect square. We prefer not to crop away pixels but build them up into a square. To do this, we take two rectangular photographs and stack them together to make a square. For example, in the canoe photo above, we made one horizontal image of the canoe and reflections and another horizontal image of the mountain and sky. In Photoshop it was easy to stitch the two images together using layers and blending the two layers together in the reflection along the far shoreline of the lake. Sometimes we will use panoramic stitching software to get the same result. We find that “Photo Merge” in Photoshop CS5 or CS6 work amazingly well to bring together two overlapping images. The key for a successful square stitch is to pay attention to the overall composition and then in getting the technical details of the two frames the same (use the same exposure and overlapping the two shots as precisely as you can).

©Samantha Chrysanthou - Goat Pond, Kananaskis Country

In the photo above, the foregrounds rocks in the lower right visually balance the weight of the mountain peaks in the upper left of the photo.

Long and Thin Rectangles – the Horizontal Panorama

Many photographers make panoramic images which are photos that have a rectangular frame at least 2:1 or longer in format. The horizontal panorama replicates how we see the world by restricting our view vertically and forcing us to scan the horizon from side-to-side. For a panorama to work successfully, the composition has to pull the eye across the frame in one direction or another. For instance, in the three photos below there are variations in tones and subject that pull the eye through the frame in a horizontal flow either from left to right or from right to left.

©Samantha Chrysanthou - Kicking Horse River, Yoho NP

©Samantha Chrysanthou - Prairie storm at sunset, Cochrane, Alberta

©Darwin Wiggett - Barn and wind turbines, Trochu, Alberta

Long and Thin Rectangles – the Vertical Panorama

A novel use of the panoramic rectangle is to use the format in vertical orientation. It takes a powerfully elongated subject to make a successful vertical panorama. Look for strong vertical lines in the landscape or sky to make a successful vertical pan. For example, in the photo below, the leading lines of the railroad tracks pulls the eye to the horizon and then up to the line of clouds in the sky.

©Samantha Chrysanthou - Railroad tracks in the prairie, Saskatchewan

In the next image the foreground, the leaning tree and the clouds form a zig-zag shape bouncing the eye through the frame from bottom to top.

©Darwin Wiggett - The Glory Hole, Jasper NP

To create vertical panoramas, we mostly use the shift feature on tilt-shift lenses to create these kinds of panoramic images. We have the camera in vertical (portrait) format and shift the lens down to make one image of the foreground followed by shifting the lens up to make another photo of the background and the sky. The two images need to overlap by 20% to 30%. We then take these two overlapping images and merge them into one final image using the Photo Merge command in Photoshop.

©Ghost Lake, Alberta

The Circle

Like the square, the circle works best with symmetrical and centred images and with subjects which have a circular shape to begin with. We also like using circles on images of texture to imply a sphere-shape like we see in the photo below. Most image software programs do not allow circular crops but many programs do allow circular selections. For example, in Photoshop we use the circular marquee tool to make a circular selection (hold down the shift key while using the tool to constrain the proportions to a perfect circle). One we have our circle selected, we simply invert the selection and delete the rest of the image and fill the empty space with pure white. When the image is printed onto paper or in a magazine, the pure white area takes on the colour of the print or magazine paper and the image looks like a circular crop.

©Darwin Wiggett

 

Conclusion

Look at your body of photographic work; if the vast majority of your photos are horizontal rectangles, then it might be time to shake up how you present your work to the world. Moving beyond the rectangle might help move your work beyond the predictable. Give it a shot; hey, it’s cool to be a square!

©Darwin Wiggett - Whitegoat Lakes, Kootenay Plains, Alberta

23 April

Shooting Blind for Better Action Portraits of Dogs

One of our favorite dog photography techniques is something we call “shooting blind” (or, as Darwin perhaps inappropriately puts it: “c’mon doggie follow the wiener!”). The photo below shows Darwin getting ready with a Shiba Inu puppy. First, you want to set your camera to ‘tracking’ auto focus and choose a wide angle lens or wide focal length. Hold the camera down close to the dog and take a few quick steps backward while holding out a bit of wiener in the other hand toward the dog. As the puppy starts to play this intriguing game with you, randomly press the shutter button as you move backwards. Do all this without falling down and hurting yourself! Sure you’ll get a lot of crappy photos (and a few bruises and licks) but in almost every attempt you’ll get one winning shot and lots of laughs!

©Samantha Chrysanthou -Darwin getting ready to use the “shooting blind” technique

Here is the keeper from Darwin’s shoot with the Shiba Inu above:

©Darwin Wiggett – Canon 24-70mm lens at 38mm, 1/640s at f5, ISO 400

If you want to try this with your dog, here is our suggested workflow:

  • We prefer overcast days for this technique because the light is more even and the details in the dog will record beautifully on your camera sensor. If you shoot on sunny days make sure that the dog is mostly front lit.
  • Grab a wide angle zoom lens. On a full frame camera we find that 35mm is about the perfect focal length to use (on cropped sensor cameras try 24mm).
  • We set our camera to aperture priority mode and usually pick an aperture between f5.6 or f8.0 to get a decent depth-of-field to cover slight focus errors.
  • For overcast days we set our ISO to 400 which gives us decent speeds (1/250s or higher) with apertures in the f5.6 to f8 range.
  • Set your camera on predictive or tracking auto focus (see your camera instruction manual if you don’t know how to do this) and be sure to have all the auto focus points active because you don’t know exactly what your framing will be; with all points active, chances are good one of the points will lock focus on some part of the dog.
  • Put your camera on high speed motor drive.
  • Cover the viewfinder eyepiece with a piece of dark tape or cloth so the camera meter is not fooled by bright light coming in through the viewfinder.
  • Pick a location where you have plenty of space to run backwards and there are no dangers (like trees, cliffs or highways).
  • Call the dog over and give it a piece of wiener.
  • Lower the camera to the dog’s eye level, hold a piece of wiener over the camera with your free hand call the dog’s name and have it chase the camera and wiener as you run backwards (this is called multitasking!)
  • Shoot a series of photos until your camera buffer runs out or you fall down or the dog jumps you!
  • Stop laughing, catch your breath, reward the dog with the treat and then review your images. If you got one good one you are lucky! If you didn’t get anything good then adjust as needed (more or less shutter speed, different framing, different background etc) and try again.
  • We think the unusual framing and interested expressions on the dogs’ faces create dynamic images. And you really can’t help but have fun doing this!

Here are a few more photos we captured using this technique:

24-70mm lens at 28mm, 1/400s at f6.3, ISO 800

24-70mm lens at 34mm, 1/500s at f6.3, ISO 400

24-70mm lens at 40mm, 1/200s at f4, ISO 400

24-70mm lens at 39mm, 1/100s at f5.6, ISO 400

24-70mm lens at 34mm, 1/640s at f5, ISO 100

Canon 24-70mm at 42mm, 1/640s at f4.5, ISO 400

24-70mm lens at 35mm, 1/800s at f7.1, ISO 400

24-70mm lens at 32mm, 1/400s at f4, ISO 400

 

26 March

Telephoto Lenses for High Impact Landscape Imagery

If you ask photographers to name the best lens for landscape photography, the vast majority would list a wide angle zoom lens. After all, there’s nothing better to capture the big grand landscape than a lens that takes it all in from the near foreground to the distant background!  A wide angle zoom is a powerful landscape lens but so is a telephoto zoom – it’s just that many photographers don’t think of or use telephotos for landscape work. Many of our most memorable landscape images have been taken using the power of the telephoto or telephoto zoom lens to create extractive and graphic images. Let’s take a closer look at telephoto lens choice for creative landscape photography.

©Samantha Chrysanthou - Two Jack Lake, Banff (70-200mm lens)

Getting Close with Telephoto Magnification

The most obvious use of a telephoto lens is to bring a distant subject closer. Wildlife photographers use telephoto lenses because they usually can’t, shouldn’t, or don’t want to get close to their wild and sometimes dangerous subjects (e.g. bears, skunks, rattlesnakes). Sometimes, in landscape photography, we simply can’t get close to the subjects we are interested in. A canyon lies between us and our subject, or a fence with a ‘no trespassing’ sign prevents us from wandering over to our subject. Whatever the case may be, often a telephoto lens or telephoto zoom lens is the only solution for bringing a distant subject close. Think of these lenses as binoculars for your camera – they magnify a distant scene.

©Darwin Wiggett - Athabasca Glacier, Jasper (70-200mm lens)

Creative Telephoto Imagery 

Most photographers only use a telephoto lens for the practical purposes of bringing a distant object closer. But a telephoto or telephoto zoom lens is a powerful creative tool when you know what effects a telephoto lens has on the scene. A normal lens (e.g. 50mm on a full frame camera) renders the perspective between foreground and background similar to the way the human eye sees perspective. A wide angle lens will render the foreground large and the background small with an increase in apparent distant between foreground and background. A telephoto lens does the opposite: it makes the background large and looming over a small foreground. So, even if you can get close to your subject, you may wish to use a telephoto lens rather than a wide angle or normal lens to change the message the viewer gets about your image.

©Samantha Chrysanthou - Saskatchewan (70-300mm lens)

Imagine a gnarled pine tree in a meadow in the Canadian Rockies. Walk up close to the tree with a wide angle lens and the tree will be large and the peaks in the background will be small and distant. Back away from the tree and use a telephoto lens to frame the tree in a similar composition and the tree will seem smaller and the mountains will loom extra large and look near to the tree. The message of the photo is much different.  Just because you can get close to your subject does not mean you should. Consider how the compressive effects of a telephoto lens might better suit your subject and the mood of the photo.

©Darwin Wiggett - Canola and Rockies (300mm lens)

Extractive and Graphic Imagery 

Telephoto lenses also have a narrow angle of view and take in just a thin slice of a big scene. Because of this quality it’s easy to make extractions and turn your landscape imagery into graphic abstracts. Once you learn to see the way a telephoto lens sees, you’ll find hundreds of extractive images within a large landscape scene—the possibilities are endless! Compositions are simplified into pure line, shape and form. Nothing will train you to see beyond the obvious than a telephoto or telephoto zoom lens. So get out there with your 70-200, 70-300, or 100-400mm lenses and make some creative landscape imagery.

©Samantha Chrysanthou - Vermilion Lakes, Banff (70-300mm lens)

©Darwin Wiggett - Abraham Lake (120-400mm lens)

Hands On Learning

Lens choice is one of those topics in photography that is easy to understand on paper and hard to do really well in the field. Really, the best way to learn about how to get the most creative results from every type of lens you own is to take a hands-on class. Your next opportunity is coming up quickly! At our unique Destination Photography Workshop (June 25-28) you’ll learn how to make the most out of your lenses so that you never miss ‘the moment’ again. This workshop is packed with informative and exciting photography topics, so don’t delay if you’re interested…and it doesn’t hurt that we’ll be located in a world-class, private resort either! To download the detailed itinerary for this event and peruse the topics on offer, please click here.

©Samantha Chrysanthou - Vermilion Lakes, Banff (70-300mm lens)

19 March
1 March

The Minimal Upgrade

©Samantha Chrysanthou and Darwin Wiggett

Photography is a gear-centric craft. We often measure the mettle of another photographer not by his pictures but by his gear. Watch two male photographers as they first meet in the field:  each casts an appraising glance at the other’s equipment, weighing who has the best gear. This dance of the photographic peacocks is won by the photographer with the biggest, brightest and newest gear. No wonder the camera manufacturers love guys as customers–they’ll always jump at buying ‘the latest’. Having the ‘best’ is a sign to others that you are the greatest warrior in the tribe. Pictures?  Who needs pictures?

©Darwin Wiggett

I have to confess that I am as guilty as anyone. I’m often seen sporting the latest camera model or trying out a new lens. But lately my peacock feathers have gotten a little tattered and tarnished (and a few have even fallen out). Maybe I’m just a little older and wiser, but the gear matters to me less and less when I am out shooting these days.  I find I am more moved by the process, creation, experience and joy of photography. Probably this is just an evolutionary stage in the development of the photographer. I have finally moved on from an obsession with gear to an obsession with creating (hey, that process only took 25 years!)

Here are a few observations I have made that might help you keep your upgrades to the minimum and your pocketbook healthy.

  1. It’s not the gear the matters, it how you use it. Ok, we have all heard this before, but that’s because it is true. I can’t tell you how often I have seen ‘over-geared’ photographers. They have top end cameras and a suitcase full of lenses but barely know how to turn their camera on. There is no point upgrading to a new camera unless you truly know how to use your old one. Trading in your Toyota for a Lamborghini means nothing if you can’t even get out of first gear!
  2. Only upgrade your camera or lenses if your current gear is somehow limiting your ability to translate your vision into pictures. For example, if you have become interested in sports photography but the camera and lens combination you have has glacially slow auto-focus (and it’s not user error on your part) then maybe it might be time to consider an upgrade.
  3. Don’t be fooled by the megapixel war! Just because a newer camera model has more pixels than the one you currently own does not mean that it’s a better camera. On the contrary, I have seen a number of ‘new’ cameras with large megapixel counts produce fairly disappointing results. Personally, I don’t really see why most photographers need anything more than 12-16 megapixels. You can make amazingly big prints with cameras in this range. Unless you literally are planning on papering your grandmother’s attic, anything more than 16 megapixels is probably overkill. Don’t buy pixels you’ll never need.
  4. Buying high quality lenses and a good tripod is more important than a top end camera. Glass is where it’s at. To get the best out of today’s digital cameras you need top glass. The lens is the limiting factor to quality images. Most camera sensors can capture more information than lenses can resolve, so buying the best lenses means better quality images. A great lens on a low end camera will give better photos than a mediocre lens on a top-drawer camera. Digital camera bodies are essentially expensive disposables. New upgrades to an existing body happen every 6 to 18 months. Good lenses are the long term investment. And a tripod (and solid tripod head) just ensures top quality performance from your lens because blurring is minimized when you use a tripod properly.
  5. Consider buying second generation bodies. I recommend not jumping in and buying the latest release of any camera. More and more, there are bugs and firmware issues that need to be resolved with new cameras. Wait before upgrading until at least six to nine months into the life of a camera model because by then prices will drop a bit and any issue with the camera will be well known and hopefully resolved. Better yet, as soon as a new camera is released, the predecessor to that camera will be available on the used market (or even new) in droves at crazy low prices. That is where you’ll get great bang for your buck!
  6. Go out and use the gear you already own. The more you practice, the better you will become both at the craft and art of photography. Buying new gear won’t make you a better photographer (sorry) but using the gear you already own will.

So get out, use and understand your gear, and forget about the dance of the peacock. While everyone else is out strutting around, you’ll be making art. In the end, that is what it should be about. Happy shooting!

©Darwin Wiggett - Canon Rebel T2I, Sigma 17-55mm lens

 

 

 

13 February

Raw vs. JPEG: Take the Quiz!

In general, advanced photographers are pretty confident about which file format, raw or JPEG, to use when making images.  But does that confidence have any foundation?  Listening to some shooters spouting off on this topic makes us cringe; there are so many myths and misconceptions around these two settings that beginner photographers must feel overwhelmed.  Well, we’re going to sort through this mess on Saturday at our oopoomoo Talk, Raw vs. JPEG:  Which One is Right for You? This talk is for both beginners and advanced amateurs.  In fact, this talk is for anyone who has told another shooter, “shoot in raw format if you want to be a good photographer”.  Take the quiz below to see if you know as much as you think you do!

Q: Professional photographers only shoot in raw format, and everyone should aim to photograph in this format.  True or False?

©Samantha Chrysanthou - Is this scene better captured in raw or JPEG format?

A: False on both fronts.  Knowledgeable pros photograph in the format that works best for the occasion; part of being a pro is knowing how to get the most out of your camera.  For example, wedding photographers often photograph in raw + JPEG format because this allows them to quickly send hundreds of proofs, the JPEGS, to clients for review.  The pro then processes those raws that are the final selects.

We know numerous pros who only shoot in JPEG format because the images are finished in-camera, and the final results of the shoot are instantly ready to send to the client (who always seems to have a pressing deadline!) Most photo journalists only shoot in JPEG, not only for concerns about immediate deadlines, but also for veracity — the image was captured in-camera and not subjectively massaged in raw conversion software.  Like many pros, we shoot in either raw or JPEG format depending on the context.  When we are shooting for ourselves and want the flexibility to process our images according to our artistic vision, we shoot in raw format. When we are shooting for clients who need fast delivery of accurate results of their products, we shoot in JPEG format. Rarely do we shoot both at the same time because each format requires very different approaches behind the viewfinder.

©Darwin Wiggett

The photo above is from the Talyn Stone photo shoot and Darwin shot in raw format. A large part of the creativity in this shot is done at the time of capture (model pose, lens, location and lighting choices) as most good photos should be, but the flavor of the image has been enhanced in the processing of the raw file (see the unprocessed photo below).

The RAW capture of Talyn

Q: Raw is a superior file format to JPEG. True or False?

A: It depends. There is a myth floating in photography cyberspace that raw is a ‘superior’ format and that only amateurs shoot in JPEG format.  It’s time to leave behind this kind of ego-stroking mentality.  The fact is that there are pros and cons to both formats.  Whether you shoot in raw or JPEG is going to depend on your personality, your interests, your skill level with the camera, your skill with processing software and the final output or goal of an image.  In other words, it’s a lot more complicated than it appears on the surface. For example, even if a raw capture gives you more and ‘better’ data to work with, if you captured poor data to begin with, then you’re still going to have a poor output even if you shoot raw. If your processing attempts can’t rival your in-camera jpeg, then why would you shoot anything other than JPEG?

©Darwin Wiggett - JPEG capture

©Darwin Wiggett - raw capture of the same scene

Q: You should bias your histogram to the right to get the best data possible no matter what format you shoot.  True or False?

A: False. The ‘expose right’ guideline is very helpful when shooting in raw format and trying to capture the best data possible. But always ‘exposing right’ for JPEGS is just a bad idea. The reason to shoot JPEG in the first place is to have the camera process the image so you don’t have to do so later at the computer. So, shooting JPEG means you have to capture the best possible data in-camera so the camera can use its processing algorithm to deliver a great result that needs no more processing after the fact. If you are post-processing your JPEGs, then you are not doing all you need behind the lens to give your camera the best data possible. JPEG shooters should not have to do image manipulation after the fact.

The funny thing about shooting JPEGs over raw is that JPEG format demands that you be a better photographer than a shooter using raw format. In short, shooting decisions  such as white balance, picture style, choice of lighting, and use of filters are more critical when the image is finished in-camera than when the data is simply harvested (raw) to be processed later.

Getting a great in-camera, finished JPEG means the photographer actually has to know the fundamentals of photography; raw shooters, on the other hand, can get away with knowing less about basic photographic principles. (We’re not advocating for photographic laziness though!  The more you know, the better your file quality regardless of file format.) So who says JPEG is for amateurs! If you don’t know just how differently you need to expose raw versus JPEG images, then come and learn more at our talk!

©Samantha Chrysanthou- Middle-toned scenes should have an average exposure, right?

Q: If you are just learning how to process raw images, you should shoot in raw + JPEG mode.  True or False?

A: By now, you should guess the direction we’re heading here by debunking these rumours.  This is also false.  Yet we hear photographers advising the hapless beginner to shoot in both modes as a ‘hedge your bets’ kind of mode.  The argument is that, if you shoot in raw + JPEG, someday when you are skilled at processing raw files, you’ll be glad you had that raw file from a year ago because now you can go back and rescue it from the bowels of your hard drive, process it, and win a contest!  There is an exception that proves every rule, so we won’t say that having just this situation happen is an impossibility.  But, realistically, as we’re learning, most of our early efforts are crap…or worse.  (Some of our early images make great instructional slides on what not to do!)

There are some big disadvantages to shooting raw + JPEG when you aren’t skilled enough to process a raw file.  For example, you’ve increased your file storage costs in this duplicate system and, unless you have a very organized file numbering/naming system, you run the risk of de-coupling the raw and JPEG files and losing one or the other of them.  Not only have you increased the cost of storing your images, you’ve also given yourself a headache after spending hours trying to find that darn raw file of your favourite JPEG image!  And how often do we actually go in and play with a raw file after the fact?  For most of us, the answer is probably ‘not often’.  Shooting raw + JPEG also acts as a crutch:  if you really want to learn the control of raw processing, then kick away the JPEG crutch and get processing.

©Darwin Wiggett - raw capture processed in Camera Raw and Photoshop

©Darwin Wiggett - the unprocessed raw file

Q: If you do HDR (high dynamic range) imaging, then raw is the only format to use. True or False?

Of course false. JPEGs captured well in-camera will make great HDR photos. Raw images not exposed well or processed poorly can look terrible:  just check out the garish HDRs polluting Flickr, for example. We constantly see ‘advanced’ photographers who tout the ‘quality’ of raw format yet feed their HDR programs terrible raw captures resulting in noisy, banded, and artifact-laden HDR outputs. Garbage in is garbage out no matter what format you orginally started with!

©Darwin Wiggett - 10 image HDR/Pano from raw files

Finally, there are very different considerations to be made in the field when shooting in raw vs. JPEG format.  The big issue is:  are you exposing for the raw file or the JPEG file?  What is the best capture in the field for one is often not ideal for the other.  Shooting both formats at the same time is problematic. As we mentioned in question 3, if you’re shooting in raw format, you’re going to try to bias your exposure slightly to the right.  But this may leave your JPEG image looking bleached and over exposed.  Yech!  Sure, you can try to darken the picture a bit on the computer, but you won’t be able to play with it too much before seeing a loss in quality.  And if you expose for the JPEG image so that it looks good on your LCD (which is what most JPEG shooters do), chances are the raw image is either underexposed or metered to an ‘average’ of the tones in the scene, and this is non-optimal for a raw file.  Why shoot raw when you come away with poor data?

These myths above are only the most common.  On Saturday, we’ll be discussing:

  • how to figure out which format will work best for your style of shooting and skill-set
  • the pros and cons of raw and JPEG formats
  • how to obtain optimal capture for each format
  • how to best expose for high contrast scenes for both raw and JPEG
  • how to shoot for the best data for HDR images

So if you are puzzled by the raw vs. JPEG debate, then come out on Saturday, Feb. 18th when we will set the record straight!  Please help us spread the word if you know of anyone who would be interested in this topic.  (And if you got any of the quiz questions wrong, come along too so that, next time you hear a photographer spreading these vile rumours, you can correct them!)

3 January

Winter Blues: Enhancing Mood in Monochrome

Most Canadians long to escape the icy claws of winter and head south for sand, sea and umbrella drinks. In fact, book publishers used to tell me that they never allowed more than 10% of a picture book of Canada to be images of winter because, if they did, book sales would plummet. It seems like Canadians simply do not want to be reminded of winter. I used to be the same; I would retire to the fireplace and put my camera into a deep winter sleep. But no more! Over the last seven years, I have actively plunged into the icy cool hues of winter and have created some of my most memorable and rewarding imagery.

©Darwin Wiggett - Abraham Lake Ice Bubbles

The infamous ice bubbles of Abraham Lake in blue monochrome.

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27 November

How to Create Great Nature Photos No Matter Where You Live

The two most common excuses I hear for a weak portfolio of nature photos is that the photographer doesn’t own the ‘best gear’ and that the photographer lives far away from any area of scenic beauty. Neither of these excuses is valid. I know of many photographers using old or inexpensive cameras, and living in less than inspiring locales that consistently create wonderful nature photos close to home. In the end, photography is about seeing the potential of your surroundings. You don’t need to go to exotic destinations or visit a national park to get great nature photos. The next great image is as close as your backyard.

Give Yourself an Assignment 

At least once a month I give myself a photographic assignment to stretch my ability to see.  For example, most people have houseplants or flower bouquets in their home. I will book off a morning and just roam around my house with my camera and tripod and try to create interesting photos of the flowers and plants. This exercise forces me to see the light in my house and to recognize the beauty of my familiar surroundings. Often I find things beyond the plants that turn into photographic gems such as raindrops or frost on a window, a ladybug in the leaves, or a cobweb in a corner (what a great excuse to avoid house cleaning, eh?).  The point is simple, give yourself time to really look at your surroundings and you will find images that are powerful and evocative.

©Darwin Wiggett - Graphic interpretation of houseplant leaves

©Darwin Wiggett - Water drops on window at dawn

Get Outside 

A lot of nature photographers shut off their shooting eyes when they are on home turf and often turn to mindless entertainment (e.g. TV, the internet, or video games) to unwind after a day at work.

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