Nikon AE-L / AF-L Button

Nikon D3100 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 to Smoothen Skin and Get Rid of Blemishes

Skin smoothing After

Many of our readers ask me how I smoothen skin and get rid of blemishes. While the manual process below is fairly simple, there are some available presets and programs that could be utilized to help streamline the process for photographers. Many professionals though (including myself) prefer to have a full control over the image and do all the blemish removing and glamor skin smoothening manually.

This is probably the most known and most used method out there to help you achieve the radiant skin tone. Once you know all the steps, it gets pretty easy to utilize this method. I will use the following image as an example:

Skin cropped #1

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How to Take Black and White Pictures

Tree in Color

If you are inspired by the works of Ansel Adams, James Nachtwey or other masters of black and white photography, you probably want to try doing some B&W yourself. If you don’t know how to take black and white pictures and where to start, then this guide might help you to get into the world of B&W photography. I must admit that I am no guru when it comes to black and white photography, but I have been experimenting with it lately and would like to share what I have learned so far.

Tree BW

1) Colors in Black and White Photography

As strange as it may sound, black and white photography is not about the tones of white, grey and black colors that we see in B&W images. Instead, it is all about the colors that are recorded by the camera and how those colors are converted to different shades of grey, whether in-camera or through post-processing. Back in the film days, photographers used color filters in front of their lenses while shooting B&W film, then would employ special darkroom processing techniques like dodging and burning on top of that to lighten or darken particular parts of a photograph (some landscape photographers still do it today with medium and large format film).
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Case Study: Image Quality

Sharpness

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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What is a Photography Workflow?

Nikon Shooting Menu

If you have been reading articles on photography and post-processing, especially from a professional photographer, you have probably stumbled upon the word “workflow” and wondered what it meant. In this article, I will explain what a workflow is and what it is comprised of in the world of digital photography. Please note that the workflow process can vary greatly from one photographer to another, because of too many variables involved and because there is no established, standard workflow that applies to everyone. Therefore, information that I provide in this article should only be used as a reference point to get an understanding of how workflows work in general. It will be totally up to you to establish your own digital photography workflow and you should ultimately design the process that works best for your needs.

1) What is a Workflow in Digital Photography?

A digital photography workflow is an end-to-end system of working with digital images, from capture to delivery. It is comprised of a series of inter-connected steps developed by photographers to simplify and standardize their work. Simplification and standardization are the two key words here, because a well-established workflow process will not only help you in simplifying and speeding up the process of working with images, but also will also allow you to stay organized, improving your efficiency and bringing consistency to your work. The number of steps involved in the workflow process varies, but generally consists of the following:

  1. Setting up the camera and capturing images
  2. Transferring images to a computer
  3. Importing images into a photo application
  4. Organizing and sorting images
  5. Post-processing images
  6. Exporting images
  7. Backing up images
  8. Printing or publishing images to the web

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Indoor portraits with a Christmas tree in the background

Ambient Light Only

If you have been in a situation where you had a Christmas tree behind your subject and you could not take a good portrait, correctly exposing both the subject and the Christmas tree, then don’t be surprised – you are not the only person having such challenges. Many photographers have a tough time with correctly exposing images indoors, especially when dealing with a very dim room with bright objects in the background. That’s the biggest problem with photographing the Christmas tree – most people like to turn off or dim their main lights and only keep the Christmas tree lights on. With such a low amount of light in the room, all kinds of problems arise for photographers: images come out blurry, portraits are too dark or images have a flat, point and shoot look to them when photographed with a flash. The biggest annoyance and frustration, is when flash lights up the room and makes the Christmas tree lights disappear, as if they are not even on! What is the best way to deal with these problems? How should you take pictures with the Christmas tree? In this article, I will do my best to explain what you need to do to take great family photos during holidays.

1) Challenges with bright backgrounds indoors

When a room is dim, the only thing you can do without using flash is heavily increase your camera’s sensitivity (ISO). Increasing camera ISO, however, results in lots of noise in images and does not help with the problem of having a dark subject with a brightly-lit Christmas tree in the background. If you expose for the subject by setting your camera’s metering mode to “Spot/Partial Metering” and pointing the focus point at your subject, the Christmas tree will be overexposed. If you meter for the Chritmas tree, your subject will be too dark. Just like in these pictures:

Exposing for the light and the subject indoors

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How to Photograph a Lunar Eclipse

Total Lunar Eclipse of 2010

I intentionally waited on posting this article on how to photograph a lunar eclipse until it actually took place on 12/21/2010, 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 not my first time trying to photograph a lunar eclipse – I tried it once back in 2008, but the weather did not cooperate back then and I did not get any good pictures. My luck was much better this time and although the sky was not completely clear, I was still fortunate enough to capture the entire process, from full moon to total lunar eclipse, then back to full moon. The next lunar eclipse will occur in the summer of next year, so if you missed it this year, definitely try to get out and take some pictures, especially when the moon turns bloody red.

Total Lunar Eclipse of 2010

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Flash Photography Example: Hello Gorgeous!

Hello Gorgeous #15

Alright, since this week is dedicated to Flash Photography, I decided to post a series of photo shoots I worked on recently. It is always good to be able to use natural/ambient light if it is available. In a very low-light situation, especially if you are photographing moving subjects, it is nearly impossible to properly expose the set without having your moving subjects blurry. This particular shoot was done for the CRAVE Book, to highlight female entrepreneurs. “Hello Gorgeous” is the name of the mobile manicure and pedicure company, run by two amazing individuals – Hani and Kent.

I used my trusty Nikon D700, Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 for wide-angle shots, Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G for detail shots, two SB-900 Speedlights, three Pocket Wizard transmitters/receivers and just one 30-inch umbrella. Everything was shot in Manual mode to give me consistency and control over flashes and the entire process.

It was an on-location photo shoot and I was informed beforehand that the apartment would have glass and concrete walls all around. The only light available was the 3 chandeliers that you see in the first left image. I also had very little ambient light coming from the far kitchen, to the right of the chairs.

Hello Gorgeous #1

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Indoors Flash Photography with Nikon Speedlights

Whether you are shooting with an entry-level or a professional Nikon DSLR, speedlights are a great way to improve your indoors photography. While fast lenses and high ISO levels certainly help to take pictures in low-light environments, they often do not work well for photographing people indoors. In low-light situations, cameras have a tough time acquiring correct focus, motion often results in too much blur and bright backgrounds can ruin the subject’s face and emotions. Speedlights are versatile tools that are designed to overcome these problems and deliver sharp, blur-free and noise-free images with beautifully exposed subjects.

At the same time, without the right technique and tools, flash can quickly transform pictures into flat, lifeless images. Knowing how to bend the light and take advantage of the surrounding environment to manage it is a skill every photographer should master. In this introduction to indoors flash photography video, I will first quickly talk about the differences between Nikon speedlights, along with my recommendations. Then, I will do my best to explain differences between direct and indirect flash and how both affect indoors portraiture, using specific examples.

I highly recommend viewing the video in HD. You can do it by viewing the video in fullscreen mode, then picking “720p” on the bottom right corner.

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Case Study: Exposure at Night

Case Study Crop

One of our readers, Steven Ross, was kind enough to send an image to me as a Case Study. He is wondering why his image did not come out sharp, with some light spill and overexposure. Here is what he sent me:

Case Study

San Jacinto Monument at night

And his comments:

I used the camera on aperture priority mode and on a tripod but it appears that since the monument was being lit by spotlights the shutter speed was too long and the monument seems much brighter/overexposed compared to the rest of the scene.

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