Case Study: Skin Color Problems

Another case study was submitted on Nikon D7000′s handling of colors. Here is what our reader writes:

Hello Nasim, 2 months ago I bought my first Nikon camera – D7000. I’ve read much about it and decided that this is best camera for me, but recently I am noticing that in certain lighting conditions colors are inadequate. There is an awfull yellow-green color, especially noticeable on people’s faces. Skin on pictures is also has strange color. Changing wb temperature is hardly helping. As an owner of the D7000 could you tell me if this is the problem of all D7000 cameras or is it malfunction of mine? What can i do to fix this?

And here is a sample image that was attached to the case study:
Skin Color Problem

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Case Study: Image Spots and Streaks

One of our readers sent me an image with the following question as a Case Study:

I have no idea what this streak is on my pictures could you give me an idea? I bought a new lens, because there was a small scratch on my old one. However, the same streak appears in the exact same place. It is a line about 1 inch on the top right of my pics. Usually seen when shooting skylines, clouds. etc.

Here is the attached image:
Spots and Streaks on Image

So, what are those spots and streaks that are clearly visible in the above image? First, the good news – the above spots and streaks have nothing to do with the lens. In fact, lens problems and even major scratches on the front lens element rarely ever show up in images. Unless the rear lens element is damaged/scratched, you should not see any lens defects show up in your images. Those of you who have seen my articles on cleaning DSLR sensors probably already know what these are. They are dust spots, along with a piece of hair that is sitting right in the middle of the camera sensor (the long dark line streak). Now the bad news – whenever you see something like this consistently show up in your images when shooting at small apertures, you will have to either clean the camera sensor yourself or send your camera for cleaning in order to get rid of all this dirt on the sensor. The latter is a safer method, but will cost you a lot of money to continue sending your camera every time you need it cleaned; plus, you won’t be able to take pictures while it is in service. The cheapest method is to clean your camera sensor yourself. As I have shown in the my cleaning DSLR sensor article, you can clean a sensor very quickly without any hassles, as long as you have the proper tools. Is it risky? Unless you do something stupid, the procedure is very safe (obviously, I take no responsibility for any potential damage to your camera). Just watch the video and then watch the more detailed videos on how to clean DSLR sensor and keep your camera gear clean for more info.

Let me know if you have any questions!

Case Study: Bird Photography

I have finally been able to more or less clean up my mailbox and sort through most of the emails that keep pouring in from our readers. The case studies that our readers are sending have been piling up in my mailbox and my to-do list, so I will try to do a better job in posting these on the blog from now on. Let’s start with a case study from our reader Gaurav Rajaram, a bird lover and photographer from Bangalore, India. Here is what he sent me:

I use a Nikon 300mm f/4 paired with a Nikon D200 for my bird photography. While shooting, I notice that I do not get a clean background, which I would expect from a prime lens. I have got such a background in one image of mine, however, the subject is a little too soft for my liking (the picture is attached). Is there any way to get a clean background so as to help the viewers’ focus remain on the subject (the bird in this case)? Could you share a tutorial with us? I’m attaching sample images for this case study in JPEG format with full EXIF info.

And here are the two images Gaurav attached:

Bird with clean BG but too soft

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How to Store Memory Cards

After losing a memory card with the best pictures from a trip I took across the western USA, I decided to write a quick article on how to store memory cards and how not to lose photographs during long trips. It was a lesson learned the hard and painful way, so a couple of days after the loss, I came up with a plan to protect my data going forward and try not to lose it any more in the field. Below you will find my plan and my recommendations.

Losing images from a long-planned and expensive trip can be very painful. After it happens, you realize that it is not the financial aspect of it, but the effort you put into creating those images instead that hurts the most. We as photographers have to work with the best light during the day, which happens at sunrise and sunset times, no matter where you are located. In Glacier National Park, the sunset times in summer can be as late as 10 PM and as early as 5 AM in the morning. Northern Canada and Alaska are even worse, with sunset times close to midnight in July and sunrise in less than 5 hours. Add +1 hour after sunset and -1 hour for sunrise to get back and to the location, and we are talking about less than 3 hours of sleep at night. In addition, those late hours are also the peak and active time for wildlife, making it dangerous to hike to get to a good spot. And I am not even talking about the weather, which can go against you in those twilight hours. In addition, you carry the heavy weight with you and spent a lot of time tweaking your equipment and composing your shots using different spots and angles. So with so much effort put into making those images, the last thing you want is to lose them. What’s worse is, if you have been shooting for a while, you know if you got a great photo right at the time you take it. You take a look at the camera LCD and you know it is a keeper, a potential for your showcase portfolio. Once you lose photographs, you start to remember those keepers and deep regret hurts even more. So, why even take the chance? Take all the steps you can to protect your photographs when traveling and working on the field.

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Nikon AE-L / AF-L Button

Whether you are using an entry-level DSLR like Nikon D3100 or a top of the line DSLR like Nikon D3x, there is a special button on the back of your camera labeled “AE-L / AF-L” that can be quite useful in many situations. After I wrote the Autofocus Modes article, I received several requests from our readers, asking me to explain what the AE-L / AF-L button does, when it should be used and how it can be combined with different autofocus modes. In this article, I will try to go through this button in depth and explain how I personally use it on my cameras.

Nikon D3100 AE-L AF-L Button

1) AutoExposure-Lock / AutoFocus-Lock

The AE-L / AF-L button stands for “AutoExposure-Lock and AutoFocus-Lock” and its primary function is to lock camera exposure and/or focus. What does this exactly mean? If you are using any of the camera modes like Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority or other scene modes, the button could be used to force the camera to use a certain value for shutter speed, aperture, ISO and white balance. Since in any of the automatic modes the camera uses its metering sensor to determine the optimal exposure, instead of having your camera re-evaluate the light every time you recompose, you could lock the exposure to a value you are comfortable with – hence the term “AutoExposure-Lock”. There are many cases where using this feature is very helpful. One example is when you photograph panoramas. It is extremely important to use exactly the same exposure from frame to frame in panoramic photography. If one exposure differs from another, it is practically impossible for panoramic software to stitch images together in a consistent, continuous form. Another good example is if you are photographing a subject with a constantly changing background and you want to expose the subject exactly the same way from shot to shot. Basically, any time consistency of exposure is required and you do not want to switch to a full manual mode, the AE-L button can be very useful.

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How Much is Too Much?

When it comes to our wedding business, Lola put me in charge of “QA” (Quality Assurance) before images are delivered to our clients. After she is done with all post-processing work, we sit down together and review all images. She is naturally good at working on images and her creative and artistic side really comes into play when she photographs and then edits images. I have a very different approach to photography and I often pay lots of attention to such things as image sharpness, detail, framing and angles. It is surprising to see how well our different perspectives merge into a productive environment – while we sometimes do disagree, we both understand that our ultimate goal is to provide the best results to our clients.

On average, Lola and I come back with approximately 1,000-1,500 images per wedding, all shot in 14-bit NEF (RAW) format. Once we sort everything out and pick our favorites, we leave approximately 500-600 images that will be delivered to our clients, with only about 1/10th that are retouched in Photoshop. I was once talking to a photographer based out of Florida, who told me that he only takes between 100-250 images per wedding. When I told him how many images Lola and I take, he laughed, arguing that most images are probably duplicates of each other and that we should learn how to take fewer, but higher quality images. Being in business for over 30 years as a successful full-time pro, he definitely knew what he was talking about. But I also realized that his habit of taking fewer pictures definitely has to do with film days, where more photos meant more photo lab work. With digital SLRs that have a shutter lifespan of at least 150 thousand clicks, we no longer need to worry about the cost or working with chemicals in a lab. So, what is better – take fewer, but higher quality images right on the set, or take as many pictures as possible at different angles, perspectives and settings? As far as I’m concerned, I am somewhere in between. I think that taking very few pictures is risky, as you might think you got everything right on camera, but you might have missed some details – eyes closed, focus not 100% accurate, etc. The last thing you want is a frustrated customer that asks for another picture you do not have. On the other hand, walking with a DSLR and shooting non-stop is also counter-productive, since then you have to deal with too many images and the process of choosing the best ones and working on them later might take hours of precious post-processing time. Wedding photography is a tough business to be in mainly because of a photographer’s time, especially if complex Photoshop retouching is involved. Details can take away too much time and the question that I have been asking myself lately is “how much is too much”, when we work on images.

Take a look at the below image, as it came out of the camera:

Shoes 1

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How to Create a Photography Blog – Part 2

This is Part 2 for the “how to create a photography blog” series of articles. In Part 1, I gave some brief history of the blogging platform, showed how to purchase a domain with a web hosting account through GoDaddy and how to create a database for WordPress. Now I will go through the WordPress installation and configuration process for your future photography blog. Let’s get going.

11) Upload WordPress Installation

Now that we have a MySQL database, we can proceed with the process of download WordPress installation files and then uploading them to your hosting account. To download WordPress, open up your browser and go to http://wordpress.org and then click the blue button that says “Download WordPress”. You will be taken to a separate download page that looks like this:

Download WordPress

You are given two options to download WordPress – in zip (archive) or tar formats. Just click the blue download button and your browser will start downloading the zip version of WordPress.

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How to Create a Photography Blog – Part 1

Whether you are an aspiring photographer or a full-time pro, a blog can help you showcase your work and connect with your viewers, fans and potential clients. In these series of articles, I will show you how to create a photography blog from scratch – from buying a domain and hosting, to installing the most popular blog platform in the world known called “WordPress”. I decided to do this because I know that many photographers simply don’t have the technical know-how to create and manage a blog, while others don’t have the financial means to pay for the installation, configuration and customization of WordPress. Once you get your own blog up and running, you will be able to perform routine maintenance yourself, instead of relying on someone else.

Since this is going to be a rather large tutorial/howto, I decided to split it into several parts. In part 1, I will provide some basic information on domains, hosting, databases and content management systems. I will also go through the process of purchasing a domain together with a hosting account, then will set up a hosting account with a database. In part 2, I will go through WordPress installation and initial configuration. In part 3, we will deal with some customization and basic plugins, while Part 4 is going to be on themes and templates that you can use with WordPress. I will obviously try to explain everything in very simple terms, assuming that the reader has no prior knowledge of the Web. Let’s get started!

WordPress Dashboard

1) How Websites Work

Before delving into some blogging verbiage, let me first explain how websites work in general. Every time you open up your browser and type in a website, or find a website through search engines like Google and Yahoo, your computer obtains some information about the website on the Internet and then connects to a particular server that hosts that website. The particular server I am referring to has a unique address on the Internet and that’s how it is found. Ever heard of a term “IP address”? When computers and servers communicate on the Internet, they find each other through unique IP addresses that look like a bunch of numbers with dots in between – something like 55.66.77.88. Since those numbers are hard to remember, domains like “.com” were invented. Thanks to those domains, you just need to know the address of a website like “cnn.com” or “mansurovs.com” and you can get to a website without even knowing the IP address of the machine that hosts that website on the Internet. This domain name to IP translation happens through Domain Name Servers (DNS) on the Internet, the sole purpose of which is to convert domain names to IP addresses. Here is how the actual communication takes place:

  1. Once you type the website address/domain on your browser (client), it looks up the IP address of the server that hosts the requested website (through a DNS server).
  2. Your browser then contacts the server through the IP address and sends some information to the server about what page/URL is being requested.
  3. The server processes the request and outputs a webpage, which then gets fetched by your browser.
  4. Your browser goes through the content and then parses it in a nice, readable format for you.

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Case Study: Image Quality

One of our readers sent me some sample images from his camera, asking why his photos are not sharp and often too bright and flat-looking. He is using a pro-level body (Nikon D700) and very good lenses like the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 and the Nikon 16-35mm f/4 that he bought after reading my reviews and he is disappointed with his setup. Here is what he wrote me:

I really need your help.

I own the Nikon D700 + Nikkor 24-70 f/2.8 + recently bought the Nikkor 16-35 f/4 after reading you review. I wanted the 14-24mm f/2.8, but without filter it is a big problem for me. Anyway, I have owned the camera for about 8 months and I am not satisfied with the results…

I mostly shoot in RAW with Active D Lighting set to “Auto”. My photos never seems as sharp as the samples you put on your site and they always looks too bright and flat. It’s like they are “dead” without contrast and color and I don’t know what’s wrong with my setup. Maybe it’s a problem with the camera sensor or I don’t know what… I am not a pro photographer and not even close, but I expert much better results from what I have. I mean I can always fix in post-processing software like Aperture 3 which I have, but i want great photos out of the camera without playing with it too much in post.

Please let me know if you see what the problem is and if there’s something wrong with what I am doing? I totally feel hopeless…

Thank you for your time.

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DSLR Autofocus Modes Explained

Most modern digital SLR cameras are equipped with advanced autofocus systems that are often hard to understand. Whether you are shooting with an entry-level or professional DSLR, knowing how to use autofocus system effectively is essential to get sharp images. A badly-focused, blurry image can ruin a photograph and you cannot repair it in post-processing. Some professionals often end up converting their images to black and white, to hide their focusing problems. If you learn how to focus correctly, you do not have to resort to such measures and you can deliver much better results to your clients and family. Simply put, accurate focus translates to sharper images and that is something everyone is looking for in photographs today. I know some photographers will argue with me on this, saying that sometimes image blur yields a “creative” look, but it is one thing when you do it on purpose and another, when you consistently mess up just because you don’t know how to focus well with your camera. Once you learn how to properly focus with your camera, you can then decide whether you want to blur something on purpose.

Blue Heron in Flight

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