How to Use Prime Lenses in Low-Light Environments

Fast prime lenses offer a number of advantages. They are great tools in many situations – whether you need discretion, low-light performance, portability or aesthetics, there’s a lens for every taste. However, these strong advantages also come with certain issues. When used wide-open (meaning at maximum aperture), many prime lenses render extremely shallow depth of field. In normal lighting conditions modern AF systems are capable of focusing accurately. In low-light environments, our DSLRs start to suffer, which reduces our chances of capturing sharp images. Because of this, missed focus is often mistaken for lack of general lens sharpness by beginner photographers. In this article, I will introduce you to several tips on how to use fast lenses in low-light environments, which hopefully will make you feel a little more confident when using them for your photography needs.

How to Use Prime Lenses in Low-Light Environments

Tips on Shooting in Low-Light Conditions

1) Calibrate Your Lenses

The first step you need to take in order to focus accurately in any light, is to make sure that your lens(es) can focus accurately in general. Front and back-focusing has become a very known issue recently. It has become especially visible with higher resolution sensors – they are most unforgiving if you miss focus even slightly. If you want to know why these issues happen, please read our How Phase Detection Autofocus Works article where we explain everything thoroughly. If you want to identify whether your gear has any of these problems, read our How to Quickly Test Your DSLR for Autofocus Issues article.

[Read more...]

Mastering Lightroom: How to Enhance Landscape Photos

So, you’ve taken a photograph of a beautiful sunset or a peaceful, fog-covered valley. But something is missing in the picture – it just doesn’t look as good straight out of camera as the scene you were seeing at the time. By using simple Lightroom tools, such as Clarity, Graduated Filter and Curves, enhancing a landscape can be a very simple and fast process. While there are many advanced ways of processing landscapes, not all images require that much post-processing. In this Mastering Lightroom series article, I will show you how to quickly enhance landscape photographs using just Lightroom 4.

Mastering Lightroom: How to Quickly Enhance Landscape Photographs

[Read more...]

Mastering Lightroom: How to Geotag Photographs in Lightroom 4

Lightroom has always had a lot of interesting features on offer. With the introduction of the latest version, Lightroom 4, Adobe has added two more modules to the already existing five – Map and Book. In this short and simple Mastering Lightroom series tutorial I will show you how to geotag your photographs in Lightroom using the map module.

Mastering Lightroom: How To Geotag Photographs in Lightroom 4

1) What is Geotagging?

Simply put, geotagging images allows you to input location information within your image EXIF data so that you can know precisely where that particular image was taken. Ever felt like you were at an amazingly beautiful place for landscape photography but missed peak colors by a couple of weeks? Geotagging will let you remember your physical location, so that you can come back to the same spots next year. Many modern smartphones and cameras with GPS and Wi-Fi connectivity make geotagging a very simple and automated process. If you own a camera without such a feature, geotagging can be made possible with an external GPS unit, such as GP-1 unit for Nikon DSLR cameras (see our Nikon GP-1 Review).

2) So Why Bother with Lightroom?

No need if you have a camera with built-in geotagging feature. However, if you don’t find yourself needing the feature more often than occasionally, Lightroom 4 is about to save you a couple of hundred dollars. It is also a very quick and simple process, so why not? In a year or two you may be glad you geotagged your photographs to know where to look for those locations.

[Read more...]

Mastering Lightroom: How to Use the Spot Removal Tool

Lightroom 4 is a great tool for post-processing your work, especially if you tend to shoot RAW most of the time. It’s quick, easy to manage and offers an extremely wide range of color adjustment, as well as other kinds of processing. But what if you need to retouch your photographs? Does that mean Photoshop is the only way to go? While I certainly use Photoshop CS5 for more complicated retouching, I’m glad that Lightroom 4 offers options that are sufficient at least 90% of the time. In this short and simple tutorial I will teach you how to use the Spot Removal tool in Lightroom. This simple yet powerful tool will then let you remove small objects out of your photographs or fix flaws, such as skin blemishes or sensor dust spots. You will be able to perform these actions very easily and quickly and, more importantly, all within Lightroom 4 environment.

How To Use the Spot Removal Tool

1) Where to Find It?

Spot Removal Tool#1

Lightroom is a very photography-centered piece of software. Unlike Photoshop, which, from the very start, had a very broad range of applications, Lightroom doesn’t need many tools. Luckily, this makes finding them that much more simple – all the tools, including Spot Removal, are located under the Histogram tab. You can, alternatively, press “Q” to pick it up for use.

2) What’s Wrong with the Photograph?

I will be working on a photograph a friend of mine snapped while enjoying a walk in a park, and you can see it shown above. Nothing is really wrong with it per se – I think it’s a great, fun street shot. However, since Spot Removal is so simple to use, I would like to get rid of a small white spot right between the dog’s front legs. Take a look:

Spot Removal Tool#2

3) Let’s Get Rid of It!

Most of the time, Spot Removal works with just a single click. In order to remove the white spot (which may have been a chewing gum once, but let’s not think about that), first select the tool by pressing “Q” on the keyboard. You will notice your mouse pointer has been replaced by a circle, which defines how big is the area to be affected. My settings are currently at 75 (Size) and 100 (Opacity). Lets go ahead and just click on the white spot we dislike so much. Here’s what happened:

Spot Removal Tool#3

[Read more...]

How to Buy Used DSLR Cameras

A while ago, I wrote an article giving tips on buying used lenses. In this follow-up on how to buy used DSLR cameras, I will try to give some advice on how to buy the other part of a photographer’s kit – the camera itself. You will see that many of the lens buying guidelines are also applicable here, so lets not waste any more time and get started!

Canon 60D

Why Buy Used Cameras?

Just like with lenses, we don’t always need or can afford the latest and greatest. Certain cameras, such as the now discontinued Nikon D700 or the soon-to-be discontinued Canon 5D Mark II (B&H has it for $1699 brand spanking new, which is a steal), will hold a lot of appeal for at least a couple more years in the used market. Because of that, they make a great choice as entry FF models (I’m quite sure I will be using my D700 for a while even with the Nikon D600 and the D800 around) or even as backup cameras. There is an even larger market when it comes to entry-level DSLRs, such as the Nikon D3100, which can be bought very cheaply and be a great learning tool, even exceeding some old semi-professional models in image quality.

[Read more...]

How to Buy Used Lenses

With new lenses getting more expensive all the time, many photographers choose to purchase used gear and save money. While certain lenses can only be bought new (at least for a while), like the just-released Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8, used lens market is quite often an important aspect to consider when choosing a system. In this article I will try to explain the benefits of buying used lenses, as well as give you some tips on how to buy used lenses on-location knowing you’ll get a high-quality piece of equipment you will be happy with for years to come.

How to buy used lenses

Why Buy Used Lenses?

The obvious reason is to save cost, of course. Used lenses (in fully functional condition) can be bough for as much as 30 percent cheaper than brand new ones, and sometimes even more than that. This especially makes sense if you choose to switch systems – you can often buy lenses for as much as you sold those of previous brand, making the switch painless. Of course, newer lenses will be a bit more expensive, but still cheaper than what you’d get if you bought retail. In any case, this is down to each person’s opinion if he’s comfortable buying someone else’s lens.

The common question, however, is whether used lenses can be bought with full confidence. In short, no, unless you have a chance to thoroughly test it yourself before making the purchase. There are plenty of ways to make sure you’re not buying a dud, and to protect yourself from a serious financial damage. I’ll let you in on a secret – I’ve bought at least half of my gear used, including my 50mm f/1.4G lens I use more than any other, ever.

If a Used Lens Is On Sale, Does That Mean It’s Defective?

There aren’t all that many untrustworthy people out there as you may think, and most sellers have logical reasons to get rid of their gear. Ask yourself a question: if you were to sell a lens of your own, would that necessary mean you wish to fool someone into buying a spoilt piece of equipment? There are numerous reasons – some sellers find they don’t use that particular lens enough to justify owning it, or they may have found an alternative they think is more suitable to their style of shooting. People sell zoom lenses in favor of primes, and vice versa, all the time. Others begin to prefer a specific type of photography, for example – bird photography, and thus sell off their wide-angle lenses. Others want to make a switch to a different system or have a frustration with that particular lens that you may not find all that annoying (many people find slow focusing of 50mm f/1.4G lens a deal-breaker, while I’ve found a way to live with it while I must). Either way, number of viable reasons exceeds number of tricksters and thieves by quite a margin, rest assured.

With that in mind, I’m afraid I must be fair and mention that some people do try to fool a buyer by selling defective gear, and I know that from my own experience (I bought a lens with AF defect serious enough to be unusable, and sold it to a person with a warning and for a lot less money). And that is why we need short, simple guides like this to make buying used lenses a much safer bet.

[Read more...]

Ryan Brenizer Talks About His Panorama Method

A while ago, I posted an article explaining the Brenizer method panorama. Ryan Brenizer is a NYC based wedding photographer and the “father” of Bokeh Panorama, or Brenizer panorama, technique, which allows one to achieve an otherwise impossibly shallow depth of field at a given angle of view. While I did my best to explain how it all works, it’s often better to see how one does it once than read about it ten times. And who to better do it that Ryan himself?

So here are a couple more tips for those of you interested in learning this technique, followed by Ryan’s much more understandable and professional explanation.

Brenizer method panorama

1) Remember Composition and Light

While Brenizer method panorama can help even the most simple and dull photograph look amazing, any eagle-eyed photographer will be able to tell you’re just trying to fool people by using simple aesthetics, such as bokeh, which has nothing to do with your skills as a photographer, only the lens you’re using. Light, Subject and Composition are the main aspects of an image, even when it’s 9463-ish pixels wide and has the most beautiful background blur you’ve ever seen. Work on it – find the best light, the best pose or lack of one, and work on your composition skills – Brenizer method is there to improve your photography and give you more creative choice, but that’s all it can do. The rest is, once again, up to the living, breathing creature holding the camera with a lens set wide open.
[Read more...]

Mastering Lightroom: How to Manage Presets

One of the biggest advantages Lightroom offers over some other RAW converters, such as Camera RAW found in Adobe Photoshop environment, is speed and flexibility while working with tens, hundreds and even thousands of photographs at a time. However, it wouldn’t be quite as fast if we didn’t have a way of applying a set of our own settings to any amount of images we choose with a single click. For this, Photoshop offers us Actions and Batch processing. Lightroom, in turn, gives us Presets.

In this tutorial, I will show you how to manage an ever-increasing amount of presets. You will learn how to save new presets and remove those you don’t need anymore, how to export, import and organize them into different folders for simpler browsing. You will also learn how to update existing presets with new settings and how to remove certain settings so that they are not affected by presets.

1) What Are Presets and Why Would One Use Them?

Changing settings in Lightroom is very easy and intuitive. Adobe designed it with a very thought-out, photographer oriented workflow, suitable for most professionals and amateurs alike, and it offers an uncluttered, none-distracting interface. However, with such a huge amount of settings available (and, as a consequence, an immense amount of different looks you can achieve to your photographs), it would be very hard to memorize your favorite setups so that you could use them again and again. That is what we have presets for. Basically, presets are files that contain specific setting information you applied to a photograph. You can save a preset that will set the Temperature of the photograph you have selected to, say, 7300K degrees, or adjust Exposure to +1,15. While these would be very basic presets containing only one adjustment, you can save a preset that will change Temperature, Highlights, Blacks, Vibrance, Tone Curve, Color Luminance and add Vignetting and Grain to your image. This way, you can achieve a particular look with just one mouse click, and save lots of time you could then spend with your family or photographing.

One-Click Processing

Without presets, it’s impossible to experience all Lightroom has to offer, so it’s vital you learn how to use and manage them.
[Read more...]

Lightning Photography Tips for Beginners

We had a very ambitious storm last night, and where there’s a storm, there’s often lightning. Nasim has a detailed article written on “How to Photograph Lightning”, so if you hear there’s a storm coming in your area and you want to grab some amazing shots of it, Nasim’s extensive article will help you be prepared from the start.

When the storm hit, I didn’t have a tripod anywhere near me, but you don’t always need one if you just want to take a spontaneous photograph through an open window or a balcony. While I’m not usually one to photograph lightnings (or landscapes, for that matter), I still grabbed my old-ish D300 (still a great camera I use at weddings) with a AF-S 17-55mm f/2.8G lens mounted, set it to its widest setting of 17mm, closed down the aperture to f/8 (the wider the aperture, the thicker the lightning will be, but you’ll need to compensate using slower ISO setting or a ND filter to block some of the incoming light from the flash) and, after setting it to manual focus only, focused at infinity. My camera was set to Auto WB, ISO 200 (base setting for my D300) and Bulb setting in manual exposure mode (M).

Photographing Lightning_1

[Read more...]

Nikon D800 – Caviar, Sardines, or…Spam?

After reading slews of posts by others that received their D800s, I finally received my camera from B&H last week. I have to admit that my initial enthusiasm was a bit tempered by the many reports of the D800 having autofocus issues. I began to wonder, “Just what am I getting – a good D800 or a bad D800?” (think Wizard Of Oz…). Or perhaps more appropriately, did my camera fall into the Caviar, Sardines, or Spam category?

Here’s how I defined each, based on reports from those around the internet that have received this much lauded DSLR:
Caviar – Working perfectly, no autofocus issues
Sardines – Sharp center and right focus points, but the left bank of focus points noticeable out of focus and showing high chromatic aberrations
Spam – All autofocus points out of focus, even the center, with no amount of lens adjustments able to resolve the issue

Unfortunately, I happened to get the Sardine version of the D800. Sigh…

[Read more...]