How to Read MTF Charts

When my article on field curvature was published a while ago, where I talked about how one could do a quick analysis of lens MTF data and determine if it exhibits any field curvature, some of our readers expressed interest in understanding how to read MTF charts. Since we talk quite a bit about lens performance and MTF data here at Photography Life, I decided to write a detailed article on the subject and do my best to thoroughly explain everything related to MTF curves, charts and all the verbiage that comes with them.

How to Read MTF Charts

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Wedding Photography Tips: Synchronize Your Cameras

Due to popular demand, we are starting our new series of articles on commercial wedding photography. Since I have been helping out my wife with her wedding business, being a second shooter during weddings and engagement sessions, I have been writing down some helpful tips, which I am planning to provide on Photography Life. These tips range from very basic things like preparing for the wedding day, to complex setups involving specific situations, like setting up flashes indoors. Our first wedding photography tip is about properly synchronizing time on cameras when working with second shooters and assistants. If you have been commercially photographing weddings, you might have already been frustrated to see photographs from multiple cameras get mixed up when you import them to an Aperture or Lightroom catalog. It is not pleasant to see ceremony images mixed with images from the dance floor and it is certainly not fun to try to go through hundreds, if not thousands of photos and sort through them one by one. Gladly, there are workarounds to situations where it had already happened, which I will share with you in this article. First things first, let’s talk about the proper way to synchronize time between multiple cameras.

20100703-Erica-and-Brett-Wedding-479

How to Properly Synchronize Time Between Multiple Cameras

The easiest method that works every time for us and many others, is to have each person hold his/her camera, get into the camera menu and set specific time. On Nikon DSLRs, for example, time can be changed via “Setup Menu”->”Time Zone and Date” or “Setup Menu”->”World Time”->”Date and Time”. Once time is set to an exact hour, minute and second, everyone in the party must press the “OK” button at the same time. This will make sure that the timer starts at that exact time on every camera. If you use two cameras yourself, just set the time on each camera, then press the OK button simultaneously. The idea is to have the time set exactly the same, second to second, across all cameras, so that shots appear in proper order later. The set time does not have to match real time. As long as all cameras have the same clock time, your images will appear in correct order when post-processing them later.

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Understanding Histograms in Photography

Histograms can be found in almost any modern image editing software. It is my guess that most current digital cameras, including some compacts, can display histograms as well – some even live as you shoot using your LCD screen. Such a persistent inclusion would suggest that histograms are quite important. Even so, many beginner photographers don’t seem to understand what they show. There is nothing wrong or shameful with that, as histograms may appear to be rather complex at first. Truthfully, they aren’t. In this article for beginners, I will try to teach you how to understand histogram. Hopefully, by the end of this tutorial, you will learn to “read” them and see if they are useful to your photographic needs.

How to Understand Histogram

1) General Understanding

A histogram is a graphical representation of the tonal values of your image. In other words, it shows the amount of tones of particular brightness found in your photograph ranging from black (0% brightness) to white (100% brightness). As shown in the image above, dark tones are displayed on the left side of the histogram. As you move rightward, tones get lighter. The middle portion of the histogram represents midtones, which are neither dark nor light. Vertical axis of a histogram displays the amount of tones of that particular lightness. Histogram is exposure-dependent, but is also affected by tone curve and other settings.

2) Shadow and Highlight Clipping

Shadow and Highlight ClippingIf a certain portion of the histogram is “touching” either edge, it will indicate loss of detail, also called clipping. Highlight clipping (areas that are completely white and absent detail) occurs if the graph is touching the right side of histogram. Shadow clipping (areas that are completely black and absent detail) occurs if the graph is touching the left side of histogram. Either case can be often fixed by altering exposure settings. However, you must remember that it all depends on the scene. For example, if there’s sun in your image, it is only natural it will be so bright – completely white, in fact – that highlight clipping will occur.

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Winter Photography Tips

Winter can be a very beautiful time of the year, especially if you live in a region that gets plenty of snow. We all know how children love the snow – there are endless possibilities for having fun and cold weather is usually not enough to stop them from enjoying it. On one hand, winter poses a beautiful time of the year for photography, particularly landscapes and portraits, and can be equally refreshing for wildlife photographers. On the other hand, it creates certain problems that are hard to figure out for beginner photographers, let alone their cameras. In this article, I will give you tips on how to photograph in winter and end up with well exposed, beautiful color images. I will also provide you with suggestions on when to go out to photograph and how to use snow to your advantage.

Snowy Landscapes (6)

1) Plan Your Day

First and foremost, remember – days are much shorter during the winter. Sunrise is late, and sunset is early, so you only have a few hours of potentially beautiful light to capture those photographs, be it landscapes or portraits. I know from experience how engaging landscape photography can be during winter and those hours just fly by. Plan your day carefully – remember that you will need to revise your location no matter what you choose to photograph, so you’d better get there before the time of the day that you find most suitable. No less important is your safety. I’ve suffered from cold weather myself having stayed still in one place for too long. Bring some hot tea along with you, and some food, even if it’s just a sandwich. Dress warmly – it is better to be hot than cold. Make sure your mobile phone is fully charged – cold eats up those batteries very quickly. The same goes for your camera, bring at least one spare battery and keep it somewhere warm and close to your body.

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Mastering Lightroom: How to Tether Your Camera

Lightroom is a very flexible image management and processing software, but apart from powerful tools and settings to enhance your photographs, it also offers features that help you during the actual process of photographing. Have you ever felt that, even with the constant resolution and physical size growth, camera LCD screens just aren’t big enough for comfortable image viewing in the field? Luckily, Lightroom offers a way to import photographs and review them as you shoot. This function, called Tethered Capture, is especially useful for studio photographers who don’t tend to move about too much. It can be equally useful for landscape photographers, too. In this Mastering Lightroom series article, I will explain how to tether your camera. This allows you to import images directly into the Lightroom 4 environment for quick and comfortable revision as you photograph.

How to Use Tethered Capture

1) When Should I Use It?

The best time to use Tethered Capture is when working in a less active environment. For example, studio and landscape photographers, who tend to bring their laptop computers along on a shoot, will find it to be very simple and fuss-less. However, wedding photographers, who tend to move all the time and change their shooting position, would find Tethered Capture to be annoying at the very least. Who’d want to photograph a wedding with a USB cable strapped to the camera constantly, and through it, a laptop? You’d need an assistant just to have that laptop lugged around behind you! In many other situations, Tethered Capture can make reviewing images that much more pleasant.

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What is Field Curvature?

Field Curvature, also known as “curvature of field” or “Petzval field curvature”, is a common optical problem that causes a flat object to appear sharp only in a certain part(s) of the frame, instead of being uniformly sharp across the frame. This happens due to the curved nature of optical elements, which project the image in a curved manner, rather than flat. And since all digital camera sensors are flat, they cannot capture the entire image in perfect focus, as shown in the below illustration:

Field Curvature

In a simple field curvature scenario like above, the light rays are perfectly focused in the center of the frame, at Image Plane A (where the sensor is). Since the image is curved, sharpness starts to drop as you move away from the center, resulting in less resolution in the mid-frame and much less resolution in the corners. The circular “dome-like” image in three dimensional form is shown to the right of the illustration. If the corner of the image is brought into focus, which would move the image plane closer (Image Plane B), the corners would appear sharp, while mid-frame would stay less sharp and the center would appear the softest. The effect of field curvature can be very pronounced, especially with older lenses.

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Street Photography Tips for Beginners

It is a very natural urge for photographers to document the swirling life around them. We often find ourselves drawn into, as observers, a number of situations and noticing interesting details about other people on the streets. Photographically capturing these moments is a very different thing, however. While landscape photographers will usually find themselves alone and sports photographers are expected to point huge lenses at people, it is a much more self-conscious process to photograph random people in public places. I am sure many of us have regretted leaving our cameras in the bag in the face of interesting everyday situations. In this article, I will provide several street photography tips for beginners. Hopefully, it will help you start using your gear more freely without fear of being confronted by your subjects.

1) What is Street Photography?

In essence, street photography is a type of candid photography done in a public place, be it a street, a restaurant or even public transport. It is similar in approach to photojournalism and mostly involves people (and/or animals) in a populated environment (which provides the context of a story told), such as a city. However, street photographers often focus on everyday lives of strangers rather than some kind of important event photojournalists are more interested in. Usually, street photographers try as much as possible to stay unnoticed when photographing. The goal of street photography is to capture scenes unaffected by the author of the work so as to show a natural story and subject. Story and subject are possibly the most important aspects of a good street shot. Henri Cartier-Bresson, arguably the best street photographer of all times, “the father of photojournalism”, had once said: “Above all, I craved to seize the whole essence, in the confines of one single photograph, of some situation that was in the process of unrolling itself before my eyes.”

Street Photography Tips for Beginners

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Mountain Photography Tips

Starting from this month, I am reaching out to the best photographers in Colorado, asking them to write guest posts on our website and showcase their work. There are some amazing masters of photography in Colorado, with various backgrounds in landscape, travel, portrait, fashion and wedding photography. My goal is to not only support our local photography community here, but also to provide valuable information, tips and inspiration from the best in the industry. One of the photography masters is Jack Brauer, who I reached out to about a week ago, after spending a good half an hour enjoying stunning landscape photography on his website. Below is a guest post that Jack was kind enough to write for us, with some very important and useful tips on landscape photography. It turns out that Jack is not only a phenomenal photographer, but also a great educator and story teller. I am sure you will love his article as much as I did. Enjoy!


Originality in the Grand Landscape

I am a mountain photographer. Mountains are my greatest passion; whether I’m hiking, camping, snowboarding, photographing, or just sitting there soaking in the view, mountains make me feel more alive and inspired than any other kind of landscape, and definitely more than any city. For that reason I live in a small town in southwest Colorado, surrounded by the mighty San Juan Mountains, an endless sea of peaks that provide a lifetime’s worth of exploration and photography.

Bridge of Heaven Tent
(Winter camping on a high ridgeline above my town of Ouray, Colorado. Olympus E-420, Zuiko 7-14mm, 30 sec exposure)

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How to Photograph a Solar Eclipse

I intentionally waited on posting this article on photographing a solar eclipse until it actually took place on 05/20/2012, because I wanted to document my experience and provide information on what challenges I had during the process of photographing this rare, but stunningly beautiful phenomenon. This was my first time trying to photograph a solar eclipse; in fact, it was my first time seeing one take place. Yes, there have been solar eclipses before, but I have been missing them all for some reason. This time, after I heard it on the news a week ago, I decided to watch it with my family and document the event with some photographs. While we in Denver were not as lucky as some folks in US southwest, Japan and a few other places to see the total solar eclipse, the partial eclipse still looked beautiful. Unfortunately, clouds moved in and blocked most of it for us here, but I still was able to capture a few shots when the clouds cleared up a little. I will be sharing those photos with you in this short tutorial. Hopefully when a solar eclipse takes place next time, you will have some useful information on how to photograph it with your camera.

Solar Eclipse

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Finding Ideas for Your Photography

At one point or another, we all stall. Whether it is because we are drowned by our daily routine or because we simply lose interest in doing what we love. We stall and it’s not quite that simple to get back on track. On the contrary, we dig ourselves deeper. We sit cozily in front of our computers, read about gear and people we admire. Why do we admire them? It’s because they keep on doing while we stall, while we stay put and touch nothing unless absolutely necessary. It’s because they do everything we don’t.

So how about you stop doing nothing? It’s time to start admiring yourself, because you can be just as creative and successful as anyone else!

1) Go (to) Places

Matthew Jordan Smith, one of the best known Beauty, Fashion and Celebrity photographers in the USA, once said you should never, ever stop yourself from going somewhere. It doesn’t really matter if it’s an exhibition you don’t want to visit, or a free concert that you would rather avoid even if the band paid you to come. The reason is simple – we get ideas by experiencing. As long as you keep an open mind, you never know just what can throw some crazy, amazing idea at you – it could be the hairstyle of the lead singer, or a piece of art you don’t understand in the exhibition. Maybe, on your way out, you will bump into a ballet dancer and hurt her ankle, which will obviously make her very angry, as she had a rehearsal planned in an hour, which will push you into photographing angry performers. Or flying dogs. Maybe she will swear at you so violently, you will make a series of photographs about two-faced people. You never know just what will make that awesome idea pop up in your head. It could be something completely irrelevant, but if you’re not out there, one thing is sure – nothing will happen.

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