How to Clean SLR Camera Lenses

When it comes to cleaning SLR camera lenses, photographers use different methods that work for them. In this article, I will show you my way to clean DSLR camera lenses. I often get emails and comments from our readers, who ask to provide detailed information on this process, so I am including a detailed article along with an accompanying video to thoroughly explain the process. Cleaning lenses is a fairly straightforward process and is almost risk-free, as long as you are using proper tools for the job. If you are impatient and want to see the video where I show the entire process of cleaning a lens, skip all the way down. I hope you find the below article and video useful.

1) Why Clean Camera Lens?

Besides the obvious answer “because it is dirty”, keeping your lenses clean will ensure that you get the best and highest quality results from using your gear. During a Photo Walks that I led a couple of years ago, a novice approached me with a question about his camera. He told me that his images look cloudy and he had no idea why it was happening. I asked if I could take a look at his camera to see if I could find anything wrong with it. As soon as I opened the front lens cap, I knew exactly what the problem was. The front element of the lens was very dirty and had oily fingerprints and other stuff all over the place. I showed him the lens and asked if he knew about the problem. He told me that he had a toddler that likes his camera too much and apparently, that’s how the lens ended up getting all the stuff on it. He did not know how to clean the lens properly and after spending so much money on the camera gear, he was too scared to clean it himself. Gladly, I always carry my cleaning kit with me, so I took a picture before and then another after cleaning the lens. We compared the images and as expected, the first one indeed looked cloudy, while the second one was clear and sharp. This is one example of how dust, dirt and oil can affect your images.

Another important reason to clean your camera lens is keep your images free of particles that might show up in background highlights and other parts of the image. Take a look at my earlier post on “the effect of dust on lens bokeh” – you will see, that dust on the rear element of your lens will show up in your images, especially if you have large specks of dust there.

Dust is a normal part of a photographer’s life. While it is a good idea to prevent dust from landing on your gear, whether you like it or not, you will eventually end up in a dusty environment some day. So, it is not a matter of how, but when. If you see a beautiful sunset on a windy and dusty day, are you not going to take a picture? Some photographers say things like “do not get your gear dirty in first place”, which I consider to be a ridiculous statement. I would never want to miss an opportunity for a good picture, just because I wanted to keep my gear clean. Every time I go to places like Sand Dunes, I know beforehand that it is most likely going to be windy. Take a look at this shot:

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The Effect of Dust on Lens Bokeh

Do you want to find out how dust affects your lens bokeh? I ran some tests today on my Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II to find out exactly what happens to bokeh when there is dust on the front element of the lens and also when it is on the rear element of the lens. Take a look at this image crop:

Bokeh with dusty front element

See that large speck showing up in every background highlight? That certainly looks annoying to me. Here is how the lens front element looked like before I took the above shot:

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What To Do With Dust Inside Lens

One of the most frequently asked questions that I get from our readers, is what to do with dust inside a lens and whether it is something to worry about. I decided to write an article on this subject, because lens dust and flecks are a very common issue not only for camera sensors, but also for lenses. When I first discovered dust inside my brand new lens that I only used for a couple of days, I was very disappointed and I remember how I started searching for a solution online in panic mode. If you are frustrated with a similar issue and do not know what to do, keep on reading.

1) How to Inspect Lens for Dust

So, how can you find out if you have dust inside your lens? Actually, let me rephrase this question – how can you find out how much dust you have inside your lens? Because even brand new lenses normally do have some foreign particles in between lens elements. A quick visual inspection of the lens front will often reveal large dust particles behind the first lens element, if there are any. Just make sure that the front is thoroughly cleaned beforehand and any protective filters are removed. Look straight and then inspect the lens at an angle and you might see some dust behind the front glass element. Now if you really want to see dust, and I promise you will, here is the best way to do it. First, find a very bright LED flashlight. You can find those pretty much anywhere nowadays, even in a grocery store. Next, you will need to open up the lens aperture (the lens obviously needs to be dismounted from the camera, rear lens cap should be removed). If you have an older lens with an aperture ring, you just need to set the aperture ring to the smallest value (which is the largest aperture) like f/1.4 or f/2.8 and you are ready to go. If you have a modern lens like Nikon “G” type AF-S lenses, then you will need to push up a small metal lever to open the lens aperture as seen below. To keep the lens aperture open, you will need to keep pushing it with one finger:

Nikon G Lens Aperture Open

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Nikon 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 Wet Clean Your DSLR Sensor in Less Than 5 Minutes

After I posted my last in-depth video on DSLR sensor cleaning, I decided to create a 5 minute version of DSLR sensor wet cleaning, so that our readers could see how simple the process actually is. I was getting the equipment prepped for Lola’s last photo shoot and while I was in the process of cleaning everything, I thought it might be a good idea to do a short version for the impatient ones out there. This wet cleaning process is easy, because I use ready-to-go tools (sensor swab + fluid) from VisibleDust. It is certainly not a cheap product, given the $3 cost of each swab, but it does a good job of keeping your DSLR sensor clean when compared to other solutions out there. Either way, the below process is much cheaper than sending your camera for $50 or more every time you need the sensor cleaned. As a photographer, you should learn how to do this yourself.

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Things to Do After Buying a New Lens

So you have just received your brand spanking new lens that you have been dreaming of for a while. The first thing you probably do is mount it on your camera and take some sample pictures. But before you do that, it might be a good idea to do a couple of things that will not only help keep your camera gear clean, but also decrease your frustration level with your new lens in case it is defective. Below you will find the list of things I personally do after buying and receiving a new lens.

Nikon 85mm f/1.4G

Nikon 85mm f/1.4G

1) Inspect the lens

Most of the time, the lens you purchase is going to be brand new. However, there are cases when some retailers will try to sell a used lens as brand new. Ever since I switched to online purchasing from companies like B&H and Adorama, I have not had such a problem. Either way, it does not hurt to check if your lens is in good condition or not.

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How to Create a Photography Blog – Part 3

This is Part 3 for the “how to create a photography blog” series of articles. In Part 1, I gave some brief history of the blogging platform, showed how to purchase a domain with a web hosting account through GoDaddy and how to create a database for WordPress. In Part 2, I showed how to get WordPress installed and configured with the most basic settings. Now I will go through some basics of using WordPress and how you can get the initial structure of your blog going, then I will jump into plugins that enhance WordPress functionality. Let’s get going.

14) Building the initial site structure

As of now, you have a very basic WordPress blog without any content in it. Before you start playing with plugins and themes, it is a good idea to first create some site content like pages, links and posts. Go ahead and login to your WordPress dashboard by typing your blog + “/wp-admin” in your browser, for example “http://myphotographysite.com/wp-admin”. Within the dashboard, you will see a bunch of links on the left side of the page that look like this:

WordPress Dashboard Links

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How to Create a Photography Blog – Part 2

This is Part 2 for the “how to create a photography blog” series of articles. In Part 1, I gave some brief history of the blogging platform, showed how to purchase a domain with a web hosting account through GoDaddy and how to create a database for WordPress. Now I will go through the WordPress installation and configuration process for your future photography blog. Let’s get going.

11) Upload WordPress Installation

Now that we have a MySQL database, we can proceed with the process of download WordPress installation files and then uploading them to your hosting account. To download WordPress, open up your browser and go to http://wordpress.org and then click the blue button that says “Download WordPress”. You will be taken to a separate download page that looks like this:

Download WordPress

You are given two options to download WordPress – in zip (archive) or tar formats. Just click the blue download button and your browser will start downloading the zip version of WordPress.

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How to Create a Photography Blog – Part 1

Whether you are an aspiring photographer or a full-time pro, a blog can help you showcase your work and connect with your viewers, fans and potential clients. In these series of articles, I will show you how to create a photography blog from scratch – from buying a domain and hosting, to installing the most popular blog platform in the world known called “WordPress”. I decided to do this because I know that many photographers simply don’t have the technical know-how to create and manage a blog, while others don’t have the financial means to pay for the installation, configuration and customization of WordPress. Once you get your own blog up and running, you will be able to perform routine maintenance yourself, instead of relying on someone else.

Since this is going to be a rather large tutorial/howto, I decided to split it into several parts. In part 1, I will provide some basic information on domains, hosting, databases and content management systems. I will also go through the process of purchasing a domain together with a hosting account, then will set up a hosting account with a database. In part 2, I will go through WordPress installation and initial configuration. In part 3, we will deal with some customization and basic plugins, while Part 4 is going to be on themes and templates that you can use with WordPress. I will obviously try to explain everything in very simple terms, assuming that the reader has no prior knowledge of the Web. Let’s get started!

WordPress Dashboard

1) How Websites Work

Before delving into some blogging verbiage, let me first explain how websites work in general. Every time you open up your browser and type in a website, or find a website through search engines like Google and Yahoo, your computer obtains some information about the website on the Internet and then connects to a particular server that hosts that website. The particular server I am referring to has a unique address on the Internet and that’s how it is found. Ever heard of a term “IP address”? When computers and servers communicate on the Internet, they find each other through unique IP addresses that look like a bunch of numbers with dots in between – something like 55.66.77.88. Since those numbers are hard to remember, domains like “.com” were invented. Thanks to those domains, you just need to know the address of a website like “cnn.com” or “mansurovs.com” and you can get to a website without even knowing the IP address of the machine that hosts that website on the Internet. This domain name to IP translation happens through Domain Name Servers (DNS) on the Internet, the sole purpose of which is to convert domain names to IP addresses. Here is how the actual communication takes place:

  1. Once you type the website address/domain on your browser (client), it looks up the IP address of the server that hosts the requested website (through a DNS server).
  2. Your browser then contacts the server through the IP address and sends some information to the server about what page/URL is being requested.
  3. The server processes the request and outputs a webpage, which then gets fetched by your browser.
  4. Your browser goes through the content and then parses it in a nice, readable format for you.

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How to Take Black and White Pictures

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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