How to Use a Monopod

While a good, sturdy tripod is often best for stabilizing your gear, there are times when a monopod is more convenient and/or can be a big help in supporting larger camera/lens combinations. In keeping with Nasim’s mention in the Focus and Recompose Technique article that we would be doing some posts on basics and Tips for Beginners and since we have had a couple of monopod reviews, it occurred to us that some people may not know how to use a monopod properly, so we decided to share some pointers. The main differences between the three methods that we will discuss here is where you place the foot of the monopod.

Method 1: Straight Out in Front

Monopod straight in front

Most people will first use this method as it is the logical way to use a monopod. With their own legs standing square and spread to approximate shoulder width, they will put the foot of the monopod roughly centered between their legs and straight out in front of them so that the foot of the monopod forms a triangle with the photographers two feet. This more or less mimics a tripod with two legs supplied by the photographer and the third from the tripod. To increase the stability, the wrist strap should be utilized by using it to firmly seat or push the monopod foot into the ground.

monopod with wrist strap

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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.

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How to Eliminate Background Distractions in Photographs

In continuing the excellent guest posts that we have previously posted, we are introducing a local landscape and wildlife photographer, Russ Burden. Russ is an excellent photographer and loves to teach as you can tell from his article. We would like to thank Russ for taking the time to share with us ideas to consider as we strive to improve our photography. Enjoy.


Guest Post by Russ Burden

As I sit back and relax, I can still hear mama’s words, “Watch out what you do today because someday your background may come back to haunt you.” Was mama psychic? Did she peer into a crystal ball knowing of my passion for photography? Was she a closet photographer versed with knowledge about how important a background check is?

You see, learning how to eliminate background distractions in a photograph is imperative. As meticulous as one can be in composing a perfect subject, if the background isn’t treated with equal care, the end result will not be successful.

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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.

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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

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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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Rocky Mountain High – Canadian Style

My wife, Tanya, and I recently vacationed in the Canmore/Banff area of Alberta, Canada. We settled on this location after reading a variety of reviews and looking over some stunning photos of the many attractions and wildlife. We planned a series of activities that would take us to some of the most scenic, historical, and cultural locations, provide some challenging hiking expeditions, and enable us to take a “few” photographs along the way. After receiving a new Nikon D800 (review), which I tested thoroughly, I was eager to put it to work in the field. Most of the photos in this article were taken with the D800, although some were shot with my infrared D90 (converted by Lifepixel.com). For those of you reading this on an RSS feed, you may want to consider linking to the main Mansurovs site, as there are quite a few photos associated with this post.

From Calgary To Canmore

We flew into the Calgary airport, and after renting a car, began the 74 mile drive from the Calgary Airport to the town of Canmore. This trip is an interesting study in transitions. Near Calgary, everything seems to be under construction. Bulldozers, heavy earth movers, building cranes, and construction signs dot the landscape in every direction. The terrain is pretty flat apart from a gentle mountainside slope on the western side of the city. Off in the distance, we could see some purplish mountains but didn’t have a good sense of their scale. 25 miles or so outside of Calgary, the scenery changes quite a bit. Green rolling hillsides of farm land become the dominant theme, with the familiar golden yellow hay bales lining the bright green fields. The purplish mountains have risen in stature quite a bit and we quickly realize that they are far different than those we left behind in western Pennsylvania. We also unfortunately discover that there are few exits for gas or food!

At the 50 mile mark, the landscape is changing quite a bit. Those little purple mountains seem to grow larger by the minute. Green fir trees that seem to have been cloned, now begin to populate the landscape like huge blades of grass. At the 60 mile mark, we are at the base of the mountains. The term “majestic” doesn’t quite rise to the occasion in describing what we now see. The mountain peaks require you to edge closer to the car window and strain your neck in order to see them. Even in August, we can identify snow patches that never completely melt.

The road begins to roll gently as we wind toward the valley between the mountain peaks. The number of signs warning you about the local wildlife population increase, and based on the fences that line the woods along the road, we suspect that the signs are not to be taken lightly. We had taken 3 exits hoping to find a restaurant or gas station only to conclude that the notion of modern facilities next within 25 miles of the exit is a mirage. We begin to imagine that grizzly bears and wolves have posted these exit signs to lure gullible travelers, low on gas and food, off the main highway where the animals can leisurely dine on them.

Within 5 miles of Canmore, we are deep into the mountains that seem be growing larger before our eyes. I am constantly trying to keep my eyes on the road as the rocky towers on both sides of the road continue to command my attention. By now, we are seriously wondering if we have been transported to another planet, since it couldn’t possibly be part of the one which we came from. Soon we arrived at the Falcon Crest Lodge, which proved to be the excellent “base camp” for our adventures.

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How Phase Detection Autofocus Works

When it comes to DSLR technology, there seems to be quite a bit of confusion on how exactly phase detection autofocus works. While for most people this might not be a topic of great interest, if you are wondering how and why a camera could have an autofocus problem, this article will shed some light into what happens inside the camera in terms of autofocus when a picture is taken. There is an overwhelming amount of negative feedback on autofocus issues on such fine tools as the Canon 5D Mark III, Nikon D800, Pentax K-5 and other digital SLR cameras and it seems like most photographers do not seem to understand that the underlying problem is not necessarily with a specific model or type of a camera, but rather with the specific way these cameras acquire focus. If you search on the Internet, you will find thousands of autofocus reports on all kinds of DSLRs dating back 10+ years. Hence, the front focus and back focus issues we see in modern cameras are not anything new – they have been there ever since the first DSLR with a phase detect sensor was created.

How DSLR Cameras Work

To understand this issue in more detail, it is important to get to know how a DSLR camera works first. The typical DSLR illustrations only show a single reflex mirror positioned at a 45 degree angle. What they don’t show, is that there is a secondary mirror behind the reflex mirror that reflects a portion of light into a phase detect sensor. Take a look at the below simplified illustration that I made from a sample Nikon D800 image:

How Phase Detection Autofocus Works

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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

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Add Some Fish(eye) To Your Photography Diet

With the ever increasing rate of technological innovation in the photography arena, it is not too difficult to get caught up in the latest camera model, lens, or other gizmo, all designed to take our photography to the “next level.” The recent hype and debates surrounding noise levels and resolution differences between the Nikon D800 and Canon 5D Mark III alone could likely fill a few petabytes of disk space. In the midst of our obsession with the “latest and greatest,” we need to remember that photography is, at least on some level, supposed to be… well… fun! One of the best ways I know to inject a bit of fun into my photography exploits, is to attach a fisheye lens to my DSLR. These marvels provide a unique curved distortion (in some cases a full 360 degrees) that add a bit of character and spice to otherwise rather common photos and provide a unique perspective.

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