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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Suuthe and small creativity in short time

While Nasim is working on another big article about DSLR autofocus systems (shhh, I didn’t tell you that), I decided to write another quick post on a recent photo shoot. I had an opportunity to photograph this beautiful lady, Mari Carlin Dart and her skin care line, Suuthe recently. The session was supposed to last no more than 45 minutes and I only needed a couple of good images for an upcoming advertisement book called “CRAVE“.

First of all, let me introduce Suuthe. It is an all organic skin repair cream company which started with Mari searching for ideas to cure her son’s eczema problem. Without being able to find a solution from doctors for her son Peter’s aching problem, she decided to look further and work on something natural and effective. That’s how Suuthe came to live. As a mother of two children who suffered from eczema for a while, I wish I have met Mari earlier! If you know anyone like that, tell them to check out this wonderful product.

Here is how the photo session unfolded. All of the images were taken with the Nikon D700 body and a single Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G lens (my favorite as always).

Denver-Suuthe #1

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Photography FAQ #5

In this fifth issue of the Photography FAQ series, I will answer some of the interesting questions from our readers that I thought would be beneficial for others. 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. How can I get sharp images of moving people?
    Use a faster shutter speed! If you do not understand the relationship of motion blur to shutter speed, check out my “understanding shutter speed” article, where I explain what shutter speed does and how you can freeze motion.
  2. Is it worth buying UV/protection filters for Nikon 35mm f/1.8G and Nikon 50mm f/1.4G lenses? Isn’t using a lens hood good enough to protect the front lens?
    I would definitely recommend to buy UV filters for both lenses, for one simple reason – it is easier to clean these lenses with filters! If you look at the front part of both lenses, you will see that these lenses have “layers” or threads of black plastic around the front lens element:

    Nikon 35mm f/1.8G DX

    Nikon 35mm f/1.8G DX

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Indoor portraits with a Christmas tree in the background

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

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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Indoors Flash Photography – Off-Camera Flash

I have already shown you how to take pictures with your pop-up flash and use it as a commander to trigger other remote units. A detailed Nikon Speedlight Comparison has also been posted for those who are looking into buying a flash. This time, I want to show you how you can create some amazing portraits indoors, using a Nikon Speedlight in an off-camera configuration with an umbrella.

1) Getting Started

No matter what flash system you are using, if you want to be able to take great portraits, you want to soften the light that comes out of your flash. Direct light creates harsh shadows, similar to how the sun does when you take a picture at noon. While I have already shown you how to soften the light by bouncing it off ceilings and walls, the light does not always look very natural due to its angle. In addition, bouncing the light off very large surfaces typically does not yield nice-looking catch lights in your subjects’ eyes. There are a couple of solutions to this problem, which require some investment and a little bit of extra effort.

One method I would like to talk about, is to use an umbrella on a dedicated stand to soften the light from your flash – a very inexpensive way to soften the light and instantly improve your images. Lola and I use this method a lot for some of our commercial photography and the results do not disappoint. Let’s talk about the gear you will need to accomplish this:

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Nikon Flash Comparison

Technically, the article is supposed to be called “Nikon Speedlight Comparison”, because Nikon calls their flash units “Speedlights”. This article is written as an introduction to the current line of Nikon Speedlights, specifically the Nikon SB-400, SB-600, SB-700, SB-800 (discontinued), SB-900 (discontinued) and SB-910. In addition to some basic information on each Speedlight, I will provide a comparison chart on the bottom of this article as well, to make it simpler for our readers to understand the differences.

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Flash Photography Example: Hello Gorgeous!

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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