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fredag 15. november 2013

Taking Good Pictures...Aprt IV- Camera Set Up Tips In General

At the top "Lobe" of my quality diagram in the last bloggs was of course technical, and this means in taking shots, camera settings and more importantly human interface.

Camera settings are just such a well covered ground in everything from the classic text books, coffee table books, youtube and of course the user manual, that I feel I just want to give some simple tips across the range of camera types used for the "capture", and some general tips on camera settings and how you interact with the camera and subject / scene and how this then affects the settings and image quality.

Generally- The Human Factor is The Weakest Link:

First tip is to always ensure the camera is in a "base" setting before you pack it away, or when you first open it. Be comfortable with these: ISO , shutter priority, image stabilisation, single shot release, image file type etc. You can then work out which settings will be best for the subject, scene, day or period of travel your shooting will be on.

The biggest single cause for poor photos is undoubtedly camera shake, followed by excessively blurred action. These are as much the operator's fault as they are the conditions and subject.

Whatever the camera, learn to hold it steadily and release the shutter in a gentle squeeze and hold method (that is if you are NOT in burst mode!)

If you have a very good scene or moment to capture, or variable light effects such as sunsets, then don't just be satisfied with one shot: take lots. This comes back to the last point because you may capture for example children better or you may have held the camera most still in one particular frame you took of several more or less identical, or where you boosted the shutter speed to avoid shake, or maybe switched on image-stabalisation you had left off. So yeah, be aware of the settings.

Avoid longer focal lengths for hand held shots- it is often better to crop from a faster, steadier held shot than switch to a bigger lens or longer end of the zoom.

Learn to pan on moving subjects and find optimal settings for good panned shots - often between 30th and 60th of a second exposures. Even on a simple POS or mobile device, you can practice this and get some good results.

The three lobes of my diagram interact of course:  here are a couple of cross

Deciding what the shot is going to emphasise: 

Go in close: this is about framing the subject or scene, composition, but of course it feeds back to set up and what settings the camera may apply to the shot. Going in closer means the subject is more prominent.

Going in close has another effect on using wider lenses and zoom focal lengths, because a close shot will have a shallower depth of field with high aperture. Cheaper lenses with apertures of f3.5 say, can often come into their own when really getting in close and having for portraits for example, just a portion of the face framed, with the short focal distance meaning the lens still achieves a blurred background.

Alternatively for portraits you can back off and use longer telephoto shots to achieve well blurred backgrounds on cheaper lenses or when you cannot use max aperture.

If you really like taking all sorts of shots with a blurred background and foreground, then you are going to set the camera on aperture priority. As the light fails, check the shutter speed and pump the ISO up if you must to get higher shutter speeds.

Type of Camera and Technical Approach

The type of camera you own and use on the day will influence of course what you can and cannot do. Here I want to focus on the limitations and tips on how to get the best images within those, by understanding them and also by using post processing.

The Mobile Device : Smart Phones and Tablets

A few years ago all the parents I knew invested in an entry level DSLR from canon/nikon. Now they must be gathering dust as all I see is mobiles, and the reason is that people want to share the moment instantly. This of course means that a lot of images are once again poor technical quality, but maybe high personal value and have merits in capturing the scene: the best camera is the one you have with you as people say.

Mobile devices have big limitations but are easy to carry and churn out now better images than the point-and-shoot 10mpx compacts of just five years ago. Most have a fixed focal length, with a digital zoom worth avoiding in most cases as the quality declines greatly using it and camera shake becomes emphasised.

Hold them steadily and learn as I say to release the shutter without shake, or use a delay on shutter release (timer) if you are not able in low light for example. Use the finger touch spot focusing and keep your head up out of the camera until you see what, when and where in the frame you want to take your subject. Learn to use lamp posts, walls, friends shoulders, or a tripod/monopod mobile clamp adapter if you want best results.

Avoid clutter: for people shots come in close, use high above shots where the floor provides a neutral background isolating the subject somewhat,: Alternativley use a very low angle, where sky or background is neutral and even out of focus on some of the better lensed- mobiles.

Switch flash off - red eye is just irritating and removal gives dead dull eye effect often. Also  usually flash will grossly overexpose some faces, or any lighter matieral in close ups of less than 2 m. If it fires on a night panorma scene it will undoubtedly cause some light scatter near the lens.

Use the enormous depth of field: Due to the lens being so close to the film-plain, you can have an enormous depth of field, which is very useful in fact - for the same exposure- the brighteness of the image - you have much more of the scene crisply in focus. This is useful for family and people shots where they are some feet apart, once being pretty close.

The immense DOF is very useful for landscapes and in fact you should be using it!, where you really want to include foreground detail, that wind blown, craggy tree on the lochan side, or some street detail where the eye is lead forward through the scene: this is because most mobile cameras have a very wide angle and field of view: often like a 24mm - formerly a superwide angle in 35mm Film SLR days. So if you take a shot of mountains long away, you are likely to have actually taken a shot of the "fields" in the foreground as the subject, because the hills are so far away. I most often actually crop to a panorama and exclude some bland or confusing foreground., and I use a panorama app : these are absolutely fabulous on the latest iPhones from 4S onwards by the way, matching exposure and auto releasing the shutter as you rotate smoothly.

On that point:  by in large right now, apps which are most useful are those for post processing - Aviary is very good for android phones, while Snapseed for tablets, and its "cloud" version up on Google + are getting to a very useful level even for processing DSLR shots transfered in. Apps which engage  the camera, apart from the panorama apps, are by in large immature for the moment and you are better with a post' image treatment even if it is for fun. In either case, try the app and see if 1) it will over-write the original, which is bad , it should default save-as a new file 2) does it deterioate the file quality ie megapixel reduction or unwanted loss of detail? Even Photoshop express does this, which they need to look at now if they are going to have a free app at all.

I really enjoy a bit of post proc in camera, the filters can be fun and it is worht trying monotone or antique colour styles on many shots just to see how they turn out. but for really good shots I have taken shots out of camera and onto photoshop at work or GIMP at home, where the better "unsharp mask" and general fidelity and image integrity mean that the end results are much more satisfactory for printing (photo books for granny) or just as an impressive keeper, or maybe you have a journalistic shot?

Conversely, I often like to reduce the image size for rapid upload to face book. With mobiles now taking over 10mpx as standard and some with HDMI video, you can soon end up with unneccessary upload time because the images will never be seen bigger than 800x 600 pixels if they are being shared on facebook!

Cheap or 'Consumer' Compact Cameras

Usually compacts will have some more adjustments in camera or they may offer better depth of field control to a slight extent. Half press shutter may help with capturing the focal point you need. Going in close is more likely here to produce a nice blurred out background too.

However due to their small image circle size- a portion of which lands on the sensor chip, depth of field reaches a hyperfocal point at a shorter range, where everything is in focus at that plain and beyond to infinity.

Most compacts now will have a zoom lens built in.

Super Zooms: I was very seduced into superzooms when I first wanted to move away from 35mm film, having had a 35mm-90mm Pentax 35mm as second camera. However by in large the technical quality of superzooms has been so poor and the long end zoom so shakey that I steered clear. For the price of the higher end like the very good panasonic, fuji and olympus ones you can get a good entry level ILC / DSLR with a pretty effecttive kit zoom up to 200mm old equivalent, or a very good deal on a used system with a few lenses.

ILC System Cameras: Nikon J/V, Leica, mFT from Panasonic & Olympus, Nex, Samsung

These cameras have really evovled into the enthusiast and serious user area, and are used by pros' with for example one New York Times photographer only using micro four thirds now.

Interestingly they have to a large extent separated into kit zoom purchase packages a bit like the entry level DSLRs were a few years ago, and then the prime lens as the key : it is only recently that Oly and Panasonic began introducing pro-sumer zooms, which are fiendishly expensive and not all that long a zoom range.

These cameras, especially the APS-C chip ones, offer pretty much all a mirror -viewfinder based single lens reflex offered, and if you like a view finder all the manufacturers offer a EVF in a model of compact with one built in or as a clip.

Olympus and Panasonic have dumped mirrored DSLRs a while ago now and will only produce mFT for the forseeable future. Samsung IIRC, never began with a mirrored DSLR in the first place.

Drawbacks with the cameras are lacking a viewfinder and not getting the full-frame short depth of field, but that is a little compromise for a much smaller system which can fit in your jacket pockets and is less imposing infront of people that lifting say a giant old nikon D3 up to your eye!

That is the benefit here- you can choose what lens around the weight, size and lack of intrusion you want.

In terms of better images, these cameras nearly all allow you to bracket exposures, use spot metering, manually alter ISO and so on. It is important therefore that you set them back to base setting and really think of what settings will make for the best capture of a fleeting moment, or know how to experiment for other shoots such as landscapes.

There are already larger sensor, fixed focal length cameras from Leica at the high end for example and I would expect to see some new hobby/ pro single lens zoom compacts based on one or more of the above systems on the market soon which fold down to a more compact size, while offering most of the image possibilities. Canon with their G series, and olympus with their XZ series vye for top spot on smaller sensor compacts right now, which have the controls of DSLRs and are well worth looking at as an alternative to mFT/APS-C multi lens system cameras if you are unlikely to buy more lenses and use the camera most for facebook and e.mailing around your family.

DSLR Entry and Hobby Level ( APS-C)

The entry level now is just two manufacturers, if you take that Oly have moved over to an mFT non reflex mirror system which is as good as many DSLRs, smaller and better than their previous DSLRS.

So Nikon and Canon are there with very, very good entry level cameras in the medium sized APS-C sensor,  which are hard to fault. They have chosen to keep a high  quality differential from compacts and of course mobile devices, while only creeping the price up a little over time.  The big benefit of these cameras now is two fold - great high ISO performance meaning faster f stop lenses are not needed for achieving low light results which are nice, and that you can of course upgrade to a wide range of quality lenses, many of which are available second hand.

As above, check you are on Base settings before a shoot, be aware not to over complicate things, but also not to just be complacent with P mode. Also APS-C does not have the short depth of field of full frame 35mm equivalent DSLRs.

Full Frame DSLR and latest non mirror FF.

Here you have the best opportunity for depth of field control and these systems offer pro levels of focusing, exposure and clean, low noise images.  You pay for this and with the big, bright zooms you pay a fortune, a complete enthusiast camera, four lens and flash system may be over 20,000 dollars/ euros.

Even a second hand FF from 6 to 8 mpx days,  or nikon's mid way FF sensor camera, will make better images than an mFT or most APS-C cameras due to high quality, fast lenses with depth of field controls, and the good signal to noise output from the sensors.

In any cases, the cameras are nearly all bigger and heavier than other types above, and that means you will want to use a tripod or monopod more often to avoid being an idiot with camera shake!

The lenses are very much bigger so be aware of this when thinking of getting into FF: the depth of field benefit is very marginal compared to the size and price trade off for even a good enthusiast who sells occasional images.

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