Techniques

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Use The Technology

I am a big fan of using the technology that I have in my hand. I mostly shoot in aperture priority (Av) and when I have a specific reason to do so switch to shutter priority (Tv). Generally I let the camera do the rest.

At the 2010PMA Digital Life exhibition there was a presenter who had some of the most amazing macro images I've ever seen. He had a saying he repeated a lot - "use the technology" - the point he was trying to make is that for artistic or other reasons most of the time you should choose either the aperture or shutter speed and let the camera choose the other because today's technology will do a good job. There are times when I will use manual, but generally I shoot in AV unless I want to slow or stop the motion of something then I will set the shutter instead. I usually chimp (review the image and histogram on the LCD) before I move on and will sometimes set either change the exposure value (EV) (force the camera to offset its chosen settings to expose more or less) to get the correct exposure on the area I most want or I will drop into manual and starting from the camera's chosen settings work my way towards the exposure that I want that best matches what I can see.

I find that people who have been in photography a long time and know the ins and outs of their equipment and what it can do often live in the manual world and often insist every photographer they talk to also live in their world.

Film photographers would often live in manual. I usually did because I knew what film I had loaded - the camera only knew the ISO - I knew what it could handle, what range of light and colour and what would happen in different circumstances (well, I like to kid myself that I did - I did get surprises when I was sure something would work and it didn't!).

Today we have a sensor, filters & processor - who knows that sensor better the engineer and embedded software programmer or the chimp (me!) pressing the button on the outside of the box. Generally the answer is going to be the engineer & programmer. However, there are circumstances where manual is going to be better. Off the top of my head:
  • back lit subjects - the camera will make a silhouette - I might want more detail in the foreground subject
  • bright front lit subjects with an interesting background or even a dark background - you would never see it on auto
  • dark (or bright) subjects with patches of bright (or dark) areas and you want something in the middle to capture both.

Full or Partial Manual Focus

I always partially or fully manually focus either by choosing the focus point the camera then automatically uses or just manually setting it with the focus ring. When doing macro I always manually focus and usually set it with live view on 10x to capture the specific element I want in focus then turn off live view and create the image.

Packing Up

There is one important consideration and it is to do with packing up after a session of shooting. During the shoot you might turn on all sorts of things in the camera, perhaps exposure bracketing or you might be in manual or bulb for some exposures after dark. When I am putting my camera into the bag - I usually put my "default" lens back on (24-105 zoom), turn on its image stabiliser and set it to auto focus. On the body I will set the camera to Av, the arpeture to f/8 (otherwise known as the "who cares" arpeture) set the centre most focus point. Additionally I make sure I've turned off things like bracketing and set the EV to the default of zero. This way when that candid or quick moment pops up when you're after a quick snap e.g. family or journalistic moment because you would miss the moment if you had to think the camera is ready to produce the best outcome it can. People who know me also know that sometimes I don't always follow my own advice and watch my reaction when I try to quickly grab a moment during the sunny day with the camera set on a 30 second exposure at f/4. Doh. I've heard of others who simply set their camera to 'P' (Program) so everything is simply on auto when you yank it out of the bag.

What will work best for you? Only you can choose that. Get the camera out and experiment. Then you can choose what you like to work with. You shouldn't do something a particular way because someone tells you to (including this!).

I use a Canon EOS 40d DSLR for most of my photography. From time to time I get Err 99. I read a lot about people postulating on what this was. I've an interesting observation, I think it might be related to battery voltage under load.

Particularly on my older batteries I will start getting a run of Err 99 when it is cold, shooting long exposures or using the inbuilt flash. If I replace the battery without changing anything else the problem is gone and I can shoot to my hearts content.

I suspect that when the shot is taken the power used causes a voltage drop. The software senses this just prior to writing to the flash memory and refuses to write (so it won't get corrupted) and displays Err 99.

I have not seen this posted anywhere so I thought I'd put it on my site for the benefit of others.

When I first acquired my dedicated macro lens I wanted some idea of what it could do. I picked a simple subject which had some depth to it to experiment with the different apertures. The purpose was to learn what the lens could do, how its DOF improved as the aperture opened up and what happened to the colour and other characteristics such as sharpness changes.

This series of images shows the lens from f/5.6 (large aperture, limited DOF) right up to f/40 (tiny aperture, deep DOF).

I chose an overcast windless day for this series so the light would not change too much during the exposures and the subject flower would not move around in the frame. I placed my camera on a tripod, composed and focused then used aperture priority (Av) and took one shot for each available aperture the lens offered.

I strongly encourage you to do the same experiment with each of your lenses so that you can see how they behave with your camera. Even if you have a point and shoot this is worth doing. You will learn the capabilities of your equipment and can consider its advantages and disadvantages at various settings on the images you are composing.

Testing a lens when purchasing
When I purchase a new lens I will do this within a day or so as most retailers will swap a bad one if you get it back to them quickly enough. With a second hand lens I'm a bit lazier but will do an abridged version just to see if I'm willing to pay for the lens. If you're buying second hand from a photographer they will understand and allow you do to this.

As always, if you want to chat about photography (or anything else on this site) you can find me on Google+

Today I've started experimenting with X-Rite's Colour Checker Passport. Watched the tutorial and went outside for some test shots. I'm already sold on this beast. I took a shot of the checker after setting white balance based on their card then this flower. I created the "Summer Cloudy" profile in LR3 using their plugin then used that profile to adjust the colours of this photo. The difference is quite amazing. I hope it comes out properly in the world of crappy web colours. Left is from camera, right is corrected.

Just for the hell of it, I went outside and got the flower itself - the corrected version is definately much closer to the original. I'd often lamented seeing really nice reds and purples in various composures in the field only to find they weren't there in the final production image without hand tweaking. The default profiles really do suck!

Using this product is going to change my photography.

Excuse the hideous digital noise in this shot - I still had the camera on ISO 1600 because of some photos I was taking from a plane at night...

colourchecker

When I offer a critique there are two things I keep in mind - 

I try to work out what the photographers vision was when they created the image and interpret the image based on those thoughts. I write the interpretation as an aid to the photographer so they can see if my interpretation is even close to what they were thinking. This helps them to know if they pulled off an image that will convey their vision.

Secondly and least importantly I look at the technical aspects of the photo - I only comment here if I think that changes would help interpret the vision. Just because something isn't completely sharp or doesn't follow the classical rules - who cares? I don't think that is what is important. 

How you critique is obviously up to you, but you might consider this approach to help you develop your own vision.

If you would like critique of your work by me and many other people, a good way (certainly not the only) is to join Google+ (think of it as facebook for adults) and join Colby Browns Behind the Lens Photo Critique circle. Or head off down to your local photography club (it isn't called a camera club is it?).