#Photo3 – Three Advantages to the ‘Nifty Fifty’

A weekly trio of top photo tips

There was a time when new cameras didn’t come supplied with a kit lens, well not the basic zoom we have come to expect nowadays anyway. No, instead they used to come complete with a 50mm standard lens. An all-round versatile lens, that was great for the beginner and got you started with your first SLR. Now, because it’s all zooms these days, these fantastic 50mm lenses are often overlooked, even though you can still buy them, so here’s my three reasons why you should consider the ‘nifty fifty’ as your next essential lens purchase.

Price

Want a great cheap lens? Then here’s one for you. The 50mm lens is often one of the cheapest examples that camera manufacturers make. The Canon 50mm f1,8 cost just £106 new, whilst Nikon’s is a bit more at £189, still cheap for lens however. Buy second-hand and you’re probably looking at £50 for a good one. Their simple design keeps the cost down, but even with this, they still have a metal lens mount and fantastic optical quality, plus that nice fast maximum aperture. Great value for money when you think about it.

 

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Canon’s 50mm f1.8 is an absolute bargain!

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#Photo3 – Keep it Sharp

A weekly trio of top photo tips

Bad composition in an image can be overlooked. Poor light can be taken into account and even distractions can often be carefully cloned out. An unsharp result however, is usually just fit for the bin! There’s two causes for an un-sharp image- poor focusing and camera shake. Autofocus means the focus issue is a rare one, but camera shake needs nipping in the bud. So, here’s how to avoid it ruining your pictures.

Tripod

The easiest way to achieve pin sharp images, especially when shooting landscapes, is to use a tripod. The tripod holds your camera steady during long exposures so you don’t have to. This will allow you the flexibility to choose the aperture of your choice, without worrying about camera shake, as well as the added benefit of slowing you down and making you think about your compositions more. You shouldn’t really be shooting landscapes without one, so make it part of your on-location workflow to ensure all you stunning views are pin-sharp.

Use a tripod to aid image quality and composition

Image Stabilising

This modern feature, that is either built into the camera lens or the camera body itself, is like a magician’s trick! Take a picture at a low shutter speed with it switched off and your image is blurred. Take the picture again, with IS switched on and bingo, a beautiful sharp result! This brilliant feature makes hand-held shots so much easier to do. Modern cameras have allowed you to achieve pin-sharp images even taken at 1-second, which is astounding. So, if you don’t have a tripod with you, especially if shooting with a telephoto lens, make sure this magic feature is switched on.

Brace yourself

Now while image stabilising can correct a lot of user-induced camera shake. There are ways you can help the system too. Do keep an eye on your shutter speeds when hand-holding. Keeping the shutter speeds higher, by either opening up the aperture or increasing the ISO, will help guarantee a sharp result. Making sure your stance is good, will also go a long way to maximise sharp results. Avoid shooting at arm’s length, tuck your elbows in close to your body or use solid objects, such as a wall to lean against for extra support. Combine all three and your images should always perfect. Now, just that composition to nail…!

How you hold the camera makes all the difference

You can read more about getting sharp results in my eGuides. These are available as part of an e6 subscription or to purchase separately. www.e6subscription.co.uk

#Photo3 – Matrix Metering Alternatives

A weekly trio of top photo tips

Matrix metering or evaluative metering as it is also known, is the modern and tried & tested standard metering mode for digital cameras. The camera evaluates the whole picture, taking into account subject and scene and calculates the correct exposure for a great picture. Most of the time it works well, but it’s not infallible. There are situations and lighting conditions that can confuse it. In these circumstances, or just when you want to take more control, there are other options.

Centre-Weighted

Before matrix metering, the most common metering mode a camera had was centre-weighted metering. This is going back to the days of film cameras, but many modern digital cameras still have this as an option. As the name suggests it takes a reading from the whole frame, but biases its readings from the centre of the frame, where it expects you to be placing the main subject (of course, this isn’t necessarily the ideal for most compositions!). It’s still a good general one for measuring portraits and landscapes, but like matrix metering, it can get easily fooled in tricky lighting conditions.

Centre-weighted metering

Partial

To take more control of your metering measurements, select partial metering. This takes a reading from the central part of the frame (usually designated in the viewfinder by a large circle etching). Unlike centre-weighted metering however, it not only ignores the rest of the frame, but you can usually lock and hold the reading, by half-pressing the shutter button, so you can recompose and not have to place your subject dead-centre. Used with care you can achieve accurate exposures every time, even in tricky light such as shooting backlit subjects.

Partial metering

Spot

Taking things further, spot metering takes a reading only from the small circle in the centre of your viewfinder. Point this at any area of the scene or subject and you can take small and accurate readings or even multiple readings, which the camera will evaluate. Where you point the spot-meter has to be taken into consideration however. Ideally, this should be from an 18% reflective grey area, as this is how your camera sees the world. Pavement or grass matches this tone and therefore these subjects make ideal areas to take a reading from, whereas white or black areas or subjects for instance, will require a 2-stop exposure adjustment to keep them at their correct density.

Spot metering

You can read more about camera metering and exposures in my eGuides. These are available as part of an e6 subscription or to purchase separately. www.e6subscription.co.uk

#Photo3 – Long Exposure Subjects

A weekly trio of top photo tips

If you’re yearning to make your images more creative, then an easy way to achieve this is by extending your exposure times. Of course, simply putting your camera in its Bulb mode and leaving the shutter open for a couple of minutes is just going to lead to very over-exposed images! However, place an extreme ND filter, such as a Big Stopper over the lens at the same time and BINGO! Beautiful, evocative images, full of creativity and movement. But what subjects and locations work the best for these type of images? Well, seeing as you ask…

Coast

To use the full potential of a long exposure, you need lots of movement in your images and at the coast, you have that aplenty. Not only can you capture movement in the clouds in the sky, but with an abundance of water at your disposal, you have a second element to blur with a 6, 10 or even 15 stop ND filter. The results work best if you can also place a static subject in the frame for the other elements to move around. Luckily, at the coast you have these too. Piers, groynes, rocks, harbour walls and marker posts all make suitable subjects, making the coast a great place to shoot long exposures.

Whitby, North Yorkshire

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#Photo3 – Three Really Useful Photo Apps

A weekly trio of top photo tips

Everyone carries a smartphone around with them these days. Whether its Android or iOS, Samsung or Apple, these computers in our pockets are a resource of information (and can make phone calls too!) and every photographer should have one. Besides being useful for a quick burst of Angry Birds or whatever your favourite waste of time is, the apps available can be very useful for the creative photographer. So, here are my three favourite photography apps for your smartphone.

LongTime Exposure Calculator  iOS Free (Android alternative: Exposure Calculator)

Extreme ND filters are very popular with photographers now and rightly so. These filters open a whole world of creativity and whilst results can be a clichéd, they are a lot of fun to create and the results are always breath-taking. Calculating the exposure times with a 10 or 15 stop ND filter attached can be tricky however and you can soon run out of fingers trying to figure out the new required shutter speed. This app therefore takes all the guesswork and maths out of the equation and gives you a clear and easy way to calculate how many minutes an ND filter requires at 4pm on a cloudy day. If you use LEE Filters, then they have a very similar version of their own, which is well worth a look too.

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LongTime Exposure Calculator

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#Photo3 – Three Advantages to Prime Lenses

A weekly trio of top photo tips

Zoom lenses are great, aren’t they? They cover several focal lengths all in the one lens. You can zoom in to distant subjects with it or shoot something close-up, all without even moving your feet. They offer great value for money and whilst they might have average maximum apertures, combined with a high ISO, you can shoot in most situations and light conditions with them. So, with all that in mind, why would you even consider a prime lens? Well, let me give you three reasons why you should in fact, consider a prime lens.

Speed

One big advantage of a prime lens is that they are fast. Yes, primes have speed on their side. You may be thinking here, Craig what are you on about! What exactly is a fast lens? Well, the term refers to their maximum aperture and this is usually wider than any equivalent zoom. So, whilst your favourite zoom lens may only have an f4 or even an f2.8 maximum aperture, a prime lens may have an f1.8 or even f0.95 maximum aperture. What this means, is more light coming in through the lens. More light means quicker focusing, brighter viewfinder, more bokeh effect (shallow depth of field), better low light capabilities and less need for high ISO settings, so ultimately better quality images too. Yes, a fast lens, i.e. a prime lens, is all good news.

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Many primes also have a depth of field scale

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#Photo3 – The Photographer’s Notebook

A weekly trio of top photo tips

Despite computers, tablets and phones trying to modernise the notebook, there’s something very special (maybe because of this!) about using the old-fashioned notebook and pen for note taking. A notebook is a useful tool for the photographer and it helps organise thoughts and ideas, as well as serve as a tuition tool. Let’s therefore look at three ways a notebook can improve your photography.

Camera Settings

Now whilst modern digital cameras record every aspect of exposure on the image file, including shutter speed, aperture setting and ISO rating, there’s still plenty of notes you can take that will help improve your photography as you refer back to them. You can still record all the camera setting details of course, but include you own important information too. Location, weather, set-up situation, filters used (a camera can’t record this important information), reasons behind exposure compensation and bracketing and anything else you did for the shot, that may prove useful later. It’s all part of the learning process and a vital source of information as you progress and you can of course refer back to details when it all went right!

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#Photo3 – Alternative Framing Formats

A weekly trio of top photo tips

The rectangular framing format is a common one. It’s how we basically see the world and therefore how cameras are designed by default. Longer on the top and bottom and shorter on the sides, this can be reversed by turning the camera into the vertical format. This then is your first alternative and now you can emphasise foreground within this frame. Here are three more to consider that may prove more creative.

Square

Make the top and bottom edges of the frame the same size as the sides and of course you now have a square format. A more even frame with no bias either way. You can use this balanced alternative to frame up views with similar aspects. Some subjects just sit perfectly within a square frame and just require a neutral frame to show them off, which is exactly what the square format is. The square format is also more forgiving for subjects placed dead-centre, so use this rule breaker to make a creative statement.

Brierley Tree, South Yorkshire

Square

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#Photo3 – 3 Essential Filters

The first in a new series featuring a weekly trio of top photo tips

Photo filters used to be an essential item for photography. In the days when you shot with film, these where the only ways to manipulate your images. Digital has removed the need for many filters, or has it? There are still some filters that digital can’t replicate or don’t need to. Most of the process of creating an image is done in-camera, so if like me, you enjoy using your camera more than a computer, then here are my three favourite and essential filter purchases.

Polariser

The polariser. The king of filters! Not only does it darken blue skies by increasing contrast, it also boosts any colour in the scene, making them rich, vibrant and ‘pop’ in the picture. The polariser also removes reflections, which again increases colour saturation and is useful when shooting views including water. This filter absorbs up to 2 stops of light, so whilst you will have to bear this in mind when calculating exposures, it also means that this filter can also be used as a 2 stop ND filter if you need assistance in bringing the shutter speed down.

Whitby, North Yorkshire Moors

Polariser

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Open Wide – the bokeh effect

The aesthetic quality of blur produced in the out of focus parts of an image is known as bokeh (pronounced boh ka). Bokeh can also be defined as the way the lens produces out-of-focus points of light. This is the effect the lens design has on out-of-focus highlights in the background which mimic the lens aperture blade’s shape inside the lens. These may be perfect circles or they may appear as hexagonal shapes, with a good lens rendering these as soft looking circles, making the bokeh effect less distracting.

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Olympus E-M1, 12mm, 1/6400 @f2

Creative landscapes

A different mindset needs to come into play when shooting landscapes which feature bokeh. If you swop f16 to shooting at f1.8 instead, then you need to consider your composition carefully as well. Using a wide angle, you will need to be nice and close to a foreground subject, just so that you can achieve a suitable bokeh effect. So, fill the bottom of the frame with this and focus carefully on this subject. Check the image afterwards for sharpness and use the depth-of-field preview if your camera has one. You may not be able to reduce your out-of-focus part of the frame to a series of soft circles, but you will produce a nice sense of depth with your results

You can read more about bokeh in my eGuide ‘Open Wide’, available as part of an e6 subscription or to purchase separately. www.e6subscription.co.uk