How to Find Total Shutter Actuations on Nikon and Canon DSLRs

During the last several weeks, I have received several requests from our readers about finding the total number of shutter actuations on their DSLRs. I decided to write a short article on how you can find the total shutter actuations on both Nikon and Canon DSLRs, in case you are interested in seeing how much you have been using your camera or how close your shutter speed is to the manufacturers’ rated shutter life of 150,000 (on most entry and mid-level cameras) or 300,000 (professional cameras).

1) EXIF Data

The information on the total shutter actuations on your camera is preserved in file headers, known as “metadata” or “EXIF”. If you do not know what EXIF is and what it is used for, check out my “What is EXIF” article that I wrote a while ago. Basically, your camera writes all exposure-related information such as date, time, shutter speed, aperture, ISO and a bunch of other important information into the header of each file. Some camera manufacturers like Nikon and Canon also add unique shutter actuations data fields that are used for seeing the total number of exposures or “shutter actuations” cameras have.

2) Switch to JPEG format

If you are shooting RAW, it is best to switch to JPEG format just for getting the required information from your camera. While the camera native RAW format preserves all of the EXIF information that is coming out of the camera, third party conversion software like Adobe Photoshop Lightroom can strip out some of the proprietary EXIF data, including the number of shutter actuations. Therefore, switching to JPEG will allow you to view EXIF data straight, without having to import the image into Lightroom or Photoshop first. It doesn’t matter what size of JPEG files you choose – even JPEG BASIC works fine. Once selected, take a picture of anything you want.

3) Download EXIF viewer

In order to view the proprietary EXIF information from files, you need to use an image EXIF viewer that does not strip out anything from the file. Unfortunately, almost all current image viewers only display generic EXIF data that most people use and ignore the rest. Instead of properly reading EXIF data from files and then parsing the results, they typically just look for generic EXIF tags within the file and display them when they are available. If something is not available, it stays blank. To reduce the number of blank items to the minimum, they only provide generic information that is more or less standardized across most camera manufacturers.

[Read more...]

How to Fix Blank Images in Lightroom

Have you ever had a situation when you opened Lightroom and all thumbnails and images appeared blank? After discovering that the memory on our main PC was bad, I switched over my Lightroom catalog to my laptop for temporary access to be able to retrieve images to our clients. I opened a backup copy of the Lightroom catalog in Lightroom 3.0 and I was surprised to see that none of the images showed up, although my file path remained the same. Here is how it looked:

Lightroom blank images

Lightroom blank images

[Read more...]

How to Properly Sharpen Images in Lightroom

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom comes with powerful tools to sharpen images during post-processing. Located in the Develop module of Lightroom, the “Detail” box contains both Sharpening and Noise Reduction tools that allow Photographers to enhance their digital workflows by fine-tuning images and getting them ready to be published and printed in a quick and efficient way. Since I have already covered the noise reduction part in my Noise Reduction Tutorial, in this article, I will show you how to properly use the Sharpening tool instead.

1) Problems with Sharpening Images

Sharp images look aesthetically more pleasing than soft or blurry images. Because of this, most photographers try to sharpen their images in post-processing applications, which can result in all kinds of problems such as:

  1. Over-sharpening – when too much sharpening is used, it results in harsh, visible lines on edges and around objects. Over-sharpened images often look too “textured”.
  2. Too much noise – using excessive amounts of sharpening can add a lot more noise to an image. The worst result is when an image is already shot at high ISO levels and sharpening is applied on top of the digital grain, resulting in even more noise.
  3. Zigzag lines – straight thin lines can get converted over to zigzags and circular shapes can get cubic transitions when excessive sharpening with a large radius is applied.

Here is an example of an over-sharpened image:

Over-sharpened Image

Over-sharpened Image

[Read more...]

How to Enlarge Photographs for Printing

A discussion on image cropping sparked up the idea to write this post after I exchanged a couple of comments in my “How to Photograph Birds” article with Tim Layton, who was concerned with cropping bird images and losing resolution for printing. He suggested to try to increase the size of cropped images with a product called Genuine Fractals 6, so that he could get to 8×10 or larger sizes. Since I have had experience with Genuine Fractals in the past and used it for some of my work, I decided to write a quick article about professionally enlarging photographs for printing, in addition to doing a comparison between the resize tool within Photoshop and Genuine Fractals 6 Pro.

1) How large can you print?

One of the most frequently asked questions by photographers who do not have much experience with the printing process is how big they can print their photographs from their DSLR cameras. Traditionally, the rule has been to divide the width of the image in pixels by 300 to get the highest quality print size in inches. For example, if you are shooting with the Nikon D90 camera, the image resolution is 4,288 (width) x 2,848 (height). This literally means that there are 4,288 horizontal pixels and 2,848 vertical pixels on the image sensor. If you multiply these numbers together, you will get to 12,212,224 pixels or 12.2 megapixels – the total number of pixels available on the sensor. So in the above case with the D90, dividing 4,288 and 2,848 by 300 gives 14.3 x 9.5 inch size prints. Why divide by 300 and what does that number mean? This number represents “DPI” (dots per inch) or “PPI” (pixels per inch), which means how many dots/pixels per inch the printer will print on paper. The more the number of “dots” per square inch, the more dense and close to each other the printed dots will be, resulting in smooth transitions and less space between those dots and therefore less “grain”. 300 dots per inch gives magazine-quality prints, while lower numbers below 150 introduce more grain and fuzziness to the printed image.

[Read more...]

Raptor Photography

I really enjoy raptor photography, definitely much more than any other type of bird photography. Birds of prey are powerful, aggressive, fast, agile, precise and even at times ravenous, having no mercy on their targets. They are also tough to photograph and get close to, since most of them (especially adults) do not like people and their presence. I have been studying raptor behavior and habitat during the last 3 years and have traveled to various locations both in Colorado and in other states to see and photograph these beautiful creatures. In this article, I will show you some of the latest pictures and videos of predators I took during the last month and will give you a few tips on photographing raptors.

Red-tailed Hawk in Flight

[Read more...]

Bokeh on Point and Shoot Cameras

I get many emails from our readers asking me how they can get good bokeh out of their point and shoot cameras. I first thought about posting a short paragraph in a Photography FAQ post, but then decided to elaborate more on the subject and explain it in detail, rather than providing a short answer. Hopefully those who have point and shoot cameras will understand everything I say, since I will do my best to explain the subject in simple terms.

1) What is Bokeh?

As I explained in my “What is Bokeh” article, Bokeh is the quality of out-of-focus or “blurry” parts of the image rendered by a camera lens. The key word here is “quality”, since bokeh is not the second name for the blurry parts of the image. When you hear somebody say “the bokeh on that image is creamy and beautiful”, they are simply referring to the overall quality and feel of the out-of-focus area, not the out-of-focus area itself.

Creamy Bokeh

[Read more...]

How to Recover Deleted Photos from Memory Cards

Have you ever accidentally formatted your memory card with important images in it? Or perhaps your hard drive crashed, you had no backups and you already deleted images from your memory cards? You never think about it until it happens and when it does happen, it hits you hard. I once lost all images of Red Fox kits that were very dear to me and I even managed to format and overwrite images from a trip to Utah this year. Unfortunately, disasters happen to everyone and if you happen to be in a similar situation, it is better to be prepared and know what to do. In this quick article, I will show you how you can recover and retrieve lost images from memory cards and will give you some information on what can be recovered and under what circumstances.

1) Data disaster types

Whether you are using a Compact Flash or SD/SDHC card, there are several types of disasters that can happen with it:

  1. Formatted card (Chance of Recovery: High) – if you happened to format the memory card for whatever reason, either in-camera or on your PC. Chances of recovering all data are very high, as long as the card was not touched after the last format. This is due to the fact that the formatting process never actually deletes the images from the memory card – it simply labels the card as “free” and prepares it for writing.
  2. Deleted images (Chance of Recovery: High) – if you manually deleted images from the card either on the camera or on your PC/Mac, the chances of recovering all data are very high, as long as more images or data were not written on the disk. Just like in formatting, deleting files simply marks certain area of the disk as free for writing. The actual files are never erased from the disk.
  3. Non-physical damage/data failure (Chance of Recovery: Moderate to Low, depends on type of failure) – there could be different scenarios, but one of the more common ones is when a memory card fails during the process of writing images to the card (corrupted data). This is where your camera would give an error, indicating that the data could not be written to the card. The chances of data recovery are moderate to low, depending on how serious the damage is due to bad sectors, etc. Some unreadable cards can be recovered, again, depending on the damage.
  4. Physical damage (Chance of Recovery: Low to None) – if your memory card has suffered from physical damage and is unreadable, the chances of recovery are very low. You could try one of the data recovery tools shown below to see if it can recover anything. If all programs fail and the drive cannot be recognized, it might be better to take it to data recovery experts, who can try to retrieve the data in a lab environment.

[Read more...]

Lightroom 3 Lens Correction

Do you know that Lightroom 3 can now easily fix geometric distortion, chromatic aberration and vignetting issues in your images without having to open Photoshop? In this article, I will show you how to fix lens issues in your photographs, in addition to adding a lens profile to Lightroom 3 if your lens is not supported by Lightroom’s Camera RAW.

1) What is Lens Correction in Lightroom 3?

Lens Correction, also known as “Distortion Correction”, is a brand new feature that was introduced in Lightroom 3 to allow photographers to fix such lens problems as distortion, chromatic aberration and vignetting “non-destructively”, without leaving Lightroom. This is a great addition to Lightroom, since all of the above had to be manually performed in Photoshop using a Lens Correction filter, which was a rather tedious task (especially for a large number of images). The beauty of the lens correction feature in Lightroom 3, is that just like any other setting, lens correction settings can be copied from one image to another, or applied to hundreds of images at once without having to open each image individually. Take a look at the following image that was taken with the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G lens:

Move mouse over to see before and after Lens Correction

Move your mouse over and out of the image to see what it looks like before and after Lens Correction is applied to the image. The curves around the edges are straightened and the building looks more natural. This is not an extreme case with distortion, but you get the idea. The corner darkness (vignetting) is also taken care of.

[Read more...]

How to Photograph Fireworks

Wondering about how to photograph fireworks on 4th of July, New Year or some other event / occasion? In this quick article, I will provide some basic tips on how to best capture fireworks, what type of equipment to use and what camera settings to use during the process. Although the process is relatively simple, there are some things that might be worth considering, as outlined below.

Fireworks 1

Fireworks, 3 second exposure

[Read more...]

Photography FAQ #4

In this fourth issue of the Photography FAQ, I will focus on Nikon-specific questions that have been sent by our readers. Big thanks to our readers for continuously sending questions to us and participating in the comments section of our blog. We truly value your feedback and we do our best to respond to your queries as soon as we can.

  1. Should I enable Active D-Lighting on my Nikon DSLR?
    It depends on whether you shoot in JPEG or RAW format. If you shoot JPEG, then yes, I would certainly recommend enabling Active D-Lighting. Use “Auto” setting, if it is available. If “Auto” is not available, then use “Normal”, which should work well for most situations. However, if you shoot in RAW format, then enabling Active D-Lighting is only going to be useful if you use Nikon’s Capture NX software. If you use Lightroom or some other third party application for post-processing your images, then Active D-Lighting is a useless overhead that you do not need – it will only darken your images a little. The reason why this happens, is because Active D-Lighting is essentially a tone curve applied to a RAW image in Nikon’s proprietary format. Current Adobe products are unable to read this data, so they automatically discard such data as Active D-Lighting, sharpening, color saturation, etc.
  2. I have a Nikon D80 that I have been using for a while and I was wondering if the D5000 represents a step down from what I currently have?
    Yes. While Nikon D5000 might seem like an upgrade for a D80 user, it is actually a lower-class camera. Nikon D5000 is an upper-entry-level camera, while Nikon D80 is a semi-professional camera that has more features (almost twice as many custom functions) than D5000. If you are currently using the Nikon D80, then you should be looking at D90 if you want to upgrade. A more detailed comparison of features can be found in my Nikon D5000 vs D90 article.
  3. Do you have any information on when an upgrade to Nikon D90 is supposed to be released? Will it happen this year?
    I get this question a lot. If you look at Nikon’s release schedule in the past, then yes, there should be an update to Nikon D90 at the end of this summer. However, nobody can tell you for sure, because the information is kept in secret and Nikon makes select people sign special “non-disclosure agreements” (NDA) before they can see any of the unannounced products. I personally do have a problem with a possible summer update of D90 and I think that it is not going to happen. Why? Because Nikon has not released a new sensor on the professional DX line this year. Nikon released the D300s, but it uses the same sensor as in D300. This does matter, because historically, Nikon released semi-professional DX cameras only after a major update to the professional DX cameras (D80 came out after D200 and used the same sensor, D90 came out after D300, same sensor). So, if an update to D90 does come out this summer, would Nikon reuse the same sensor as in the current D90? I don’t think so, it just wouldn’t make much sense. Adding more features to D90 is also not a good option, since Nikon would not want to threaten the current D300s sales with a more capable D90.

    NOTE: Nikon D7000 has been announced, no D90 update is planned for 2010.

  4. What about an update to Nikon D700?
    Everybody was hoping for a Nikon D700s or Nikon D700x this spring, but it didn’t happen. Since Nikon D3s has a brand new sensor, a Nikon D700s would make the most sense. The Nikon D700 was released on July 1, 2008, so there could be a Nikon D700s announcement in July or later in the year (most likely November announcement for general availability before Christmas), but again, it is just a mere guess. There is also a possibility that it will not happen at all this year, due to Nikon’s financial situation. I hope Nikon understands that a lot of people are waiting for a D700s/D700x release – it will surely be a hot seller, especially in the wedding photography business.
  5. You recommend Nikon 35mm f/1.8G DX and Nikon 50mm f/1.4G lenses for low-light situations. If I have a room lit with just candle light, can those lenses create good, acceptably sharp images?
    If you are shooting hand-held in a candle-lit room, then no, neither the 35mm f/1.8, nor the Nikon 50mm f/1.4 would help. Remember, there is a big difference between low-light and dark. Candle light is dark. What I consider low-light is your typical indoors light in your room, with one or more 60-100W light bulbs. Also, don’t forget that focusing with a camera in low-light situations is extremely difficult and even though you might get a camera shake-free image, it could be soft due to bad focus. If you have a camera with good high ISO performance like the Nikon D700/D3 or D3s, then you could certainly bump up ISO to a really high number and get acceptably sharp images, but you would once again have to watch for possible focusing problems. Having fast-aperture lenses does not mean that you can photograph night scenes by just hand-holding the camera.

Please let me know if you have any questions!