Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Recommended Camera Bodies

These are my favorite camera bodies and are what I recommend when people ask for advice.

Best Beginner DSLR: Nikon D3200 $599

Nikon D3200

The Nikon D3200 has an amazing sensor in it for the price, just look at its sensor rating on It also has many features that will help the beginner photographer learn to take better pictures. With 24 megapixels you will be able to make small crops to your images without losing detail.

Best Prosumer Body: Nikon D7000 $896

Nikon D7000
Part of the reason I love this camera is because of the great deals you can find on it. Click on the link above to see current pricing on Amazon. This camera has been around for two years but it is still fantastic. The D7000 is an ideal camera for someone that is looking to upgrade from their first DSLR. It offers more advanced features like more autofocus points, higher continuous shooting rates, weather sealing and a magnesium body. Another great thing about going to a prosumer/semiprofessional level body is that almost all of your settings have a button, instead of having to go through all kinds of menus to change settings.

Best Portrait and Landscape Body: Nikon D800 $2796

Nikon D800
The D800 has a whopping 36 megapixels which makes it great for getting great detail out of portraits and landscapes. It also has a full frame image sensor that makes it much better for low light images. Landscape photographers will love the dynamic range of the camera. The downside of the D800 is that it does not have a super fast continuous shooting rate, only 4 fps.

Best Sports and Action Body: Canon 1DX $6799

Canon 1DX

The Canon 1DX will shoot an astounding 12 frames per second. It also has one of the most sophisticated auto focus systems on the market, that make it great for tracking fast moving subjects. The 1DX is also great in low light. Keep in mind the 1DX does not have a built in flash, but if you are using a professional body like that you will want an external flash anyway.

Best Travel Camera: Sony NEX 7 $1098

Sony NEX 7

The Sony NEX series of camera is great for those that want great picture quality without the bulk of a full size DLSR. This makes it great for taking on vacation. It has the same size sensor as the D3200 and also has 24 megapixels. The downside is that it does not have very many external buttons and lacks an optical viewfinder (they had to shrink it down somehow).

I will continue to update this page as new camera models become available that would change my recommendations.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Beyond Exif Recommended Gear

Over the next few days I will be writing about gear I recommend. There will be posts about camera bodies, lenses, bags, filters and other accessories. I do a lot of research into camera products so be sure to check here for the gear I recommend.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Oceanside Pier

ISO: 100  Focal Length: 13mm 
Aperture: f/22  Shutter Speed: 1 second
Filter: Lee 0.9 GND Soft Edge

The Shot

It was a beautiful night at the Oceanside Pier. There are so many good shots to be had around a pier. For this shot I wanted the reflection of the pier to be my foreground element so I had to wait for the moment when the waves were out. I moved about 100ft to the side of the pier until I liked the diagonal it was making in the frame. One of the things I like most about the composition is all the leading lines. The pier, clouds and colors of the sunset make great leading lines to the end of the pier where the sun adds more visual weight to the end of the pier. 

One of the real keys for this shot was the Lee graduated neutral density filter. By placing the filter transition correctly you can balance the light between the sky and the foreground. It made it so I could retain great details in the bright sky as well as the foreground.

Post Processing

In order to make the image more like the scene I remembered at the pier I boosted the saturation up to 1.8, adjusted the black point to 37, and then reduced the luminance of the blue channel slightly. The final step was to add edge sharpening and I decided to add a vignette. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Lessons Learned: Get There Early

While in Joshua Tree I missed two important opportunities for shooting. The first was at sunset and I wanted to shoot the Cholla Cactus Garden with the sun just starting to dip below the horizon. I wanted to have a sun star that would backlight the cactus. Well I thought I was leaving plenty of time to get there. I planned on getting there about a half hour before sunset. The problem was that the cactus garden has a decently sized mountain right behind it. So when I got there the sun was just dipping below the horizon. I jumped out of the car grabbed my camera bag and tripod and took off running. As I ran I was getting my tripod legs extended. I ran for the the closest group of cacti and got my camera on the tripod. Just as I turned the camera to compose the shot the sun went completely down. I missed the shot I wanted.

The second shot I missed was at sunrise. I planned on getting up early enough that I would be in place about a half hour before sunrise. The place I planned on shooting was only a 5-10 minute walk from our campsite so I figured I would have plenty of time. Unfortunately when I opened the tent door I realized I should've already been in place. The sky was a brilliant orange with gorgeous clouds. I frantically put on my shoes, grabbed my gear and ran to where I planned on shooting. As I ran, the colors began to fade and by the time a found a somewhat decent composition they were all but gone. It only took a few minutes for it to change.

Please learn from my mistakes. Get to your shots early. For sunrise shots plan on getting there while it is still pretty dark. When possible scout your locations ahead of time so you can be prepared. I find that when I have to rush to get in place the time for the perfect shot has already passed.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Shooting the Stars in Joshua Tree

ISO: 1600  Focal Length: 11mm 
Aperture: f/2.8  Shutter Speed: 30 seconds
You don't have to stop shooting when the sun goes down. To get great pictures of the stars you will need a few things.
  1. A very dark place away from the city. In this picture from Joshua Tree you can see some light pollution from the city of 29 Palms even though the city was 15-20 miles away.
  2. Little or no moon. To have the best view of the stars shoot when there is no moon or the moon is just a sliver.
  3. A DSLR with long exposure noise reduction turned on. Long exposure noise reduction will essentially create a second black exposure of the same length as the original shot to see where the noisy spots are and then it will subtract them from your shot.
  4. A sturdy tripod. It is VERY important to have a good tripod when you are doing long exposures like this. I use the Manfrotto 055XPROB Pro Tripod .
You will need to shoot at a high ISO and at a very wide aperture. Notice that I shot at ISO 1600 and f/2.8.

When you are shooting the stars, remember your normal composition rules. You still want a foreground element to add interest to your shot. When framing the shot I like to hold my headlamp in one hand while I look through the viewfinder. This way I can put enough light on the scene to compose the image properly. The foreground was lit with our campfire and the moon. You can also light paint the scene with a flash light. In the image below you can see the stars better but there is no foreground element to add interest to the image.

ISO: 1600  Focal Length: 11mm 
Aperture: f/2.8  Shutter Speed: 30 seconds

A few notes on post processing. I really didn't do much for post processing in the first image, I tried to bring more detail out with some curve adjustments but it made the foreground too bright. In the second image I raised the exposure and adjusted the black point to keep the sky black.

One last tip. If you want to avoid star trails follow the 600 rule. Divide 600 by the 35mm effective focal length and that will give you the length of the exposure you can make. For example I shot at 11mm on an APSC sized sensor so the 35mm equivalent would be 16mm. So I take 600/16 and I get 37. So I could have made a 37 second exposure.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Gifts for Photographers for Under $30

Still looking for some gifts for the photographers in your life that fill your world with ridiculous amounts of pictures?  Here is a list of my favorite gifts for photographers that are under $30.

Remote Shutter Release $20-$25

A remote shutter release is pretty essential for landscape photography. It allows you to keep the camera absolutely still when you have it on a tripod. If you just press the shutter button on your camera it will induce some movement of the camera. You can also use the self timer to keep your camera still on the tripod but I hate waiting 2-10 seconds for every exposure to start. Make sure you get the right remote for your camera model. Canon and Nikon have a few different models.

Canon Remote Shutter Release $19.95

Nikon Remote Shutter Release $24.95

5 in 1 Reflector $20

This is one of the cheapest ways to drastically improve the lighting of your portraits. The 5 in 1 setup gives you a white, silver, gold, translucent, and black reflector. Typically I stick with the white or silver in most situations but the translucent part is great for diffusing harsh light. Usually when I am using this outdoors I will position the sun to backlight the subject and then use the reflector to light the subject from the front. For a great tutorial on how to use a reflector check out this video where the Fstoppers crew does an entire photo shoot with an iphone and reflectors.

NEEWER 43" 5 in 1 Reflector $19.85

Joby Gorillapod $22

Gorillapods are great when you don't want to bring a full size tripod. They don't take up a lot of space and are very lightweight. You have probably tried precariously balancing your camera on some object to get a group shot. With the Gorillapod you don't have to do the balancing act; just put your camera on the Gorillapod and you can wrap it around objects or set it on a flat surface like a normal tripod. Be sure to get the right size Gorillapod for the weight of your camera.

Joby Gorillapod $22.00

16gb Memory Card $18

It's always good to have extra memory cards in case you fill up your other cards or one of them has an error. With how cheap memory cards are now, there is no excuse for not having a backup card. I recommend SanDisk or Lexar cards for their fast data transfer. Currently I use the SanDisk Extreme card and it has very reliable with very fast data transfer.

16gb SanDisk Extreme SDHC Card $18.41

All prices are as listed on Amazon on 12/11/2012 and are subject to change.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Why I Switched From Canon to Nikon

Until recently I was a Canon shooter. I used a Canon T2i/550d and over the years it has provided me with great images. As I've been getting more serious about photography I knew that I wanted to upgrade my camera body to more of a prosumer or semi-pro body. While reading the reviews I camera sensors from I was seeing that Canon in many ways was getting left behind in sensor advancements. The image quality between the T2i, T3i and now T4i are pretty much the same. Even though it has been a few years since the T2i was announced. I would think that Canon would have some great advancements in the image sensor quality. I saw some of the advancements that Nikon was making and I decided to switch. There are three main reasons I made the switch.

1. Dynamic Range

Right now Nikon cameras have about a 2 stop lead in dynamic range over their Canon counterpart. Dynamic range the difference between the light and dark parts of an image. Having a better dynamic range is very helpful when shooting landscapes where you have very bright spots and dark shadows.

2. Low Light Performance

Nikon is producing cameras that have better ISO performance. This will allow you to have cleaner images when shooting with a high ISO number.

3. The Price was Right

I went with a Nikon D7000, it was over $500 off. Nikon will be updating the D7000 soon so I was able to get it for a very good deal. Yeah there will be a new model in a few months but the D7000 is a fantastic body and I can't wait to make some great images with it.