12/20/2009

Is It Better to Underexpose or Overexpose?



There have been some theories bouncing around a few of the photography forums on the Web that claim that you should underexpose by a stop for digital photography.

First off, let me say this: your goal (my goal, our common goal) is to get the proper exposure. That's our goal. Always. But if that's not possible, if given a choice between overexposing (a photo that's a bit too light) and underexposing (a photo that's a bit too dark), go with overexposing you'll have less noise.

That's because noise is most prevalent in the shadows, and if you have to lighten an underexposed photo, in Photoshop (see tip below) you're lightening (increasing) the noise in the photo. That's why it's better to shoot lighter (overexposed), because darkening a photo doesn't increase noise the way lightening it does.

So, if you'd rather have one than the otheroverexpose (but again, or goal is to do neither. That's why we bought these fancy cameras with their highly advanced metering systems).
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12/13/2009

Shooting Fireworks Made Easy


This is another one that throws a lot of people (one of my best friends, who didn't get a single crisp fireworks shot on the Fourth of July, made me include this tip just for him and the thousands of other digital shooters that share his pain).

For starters, you'll need to shoot fireworks with your camera on a tripod, because you're going to need a slow enough shutter speed to capture the falling light trails, which is what you're really after. Also, this is where using a cable release really pays off, because you'll need to see the rocket's trajectory to know when to push the shutter buttonif you're looking in the viewfinder instead, it will be more of a hit or miss proposition.

Next, use a zoom lens (ideally a 200mm or more) so you can get in tight and capture just the fireworks themselves. If you want fireworks and the background (like fireworks over Cinderella's Castle at Disney World), then use a wider lens.

Now, I recommend shooting in full manual mode, because you just set two settings and you're good to go:

(1) set the shutter speed to 4 seconds, and
(2) set the aperture to f/11.

Fire a test shot and look in the LCD monitor to see if you like the results.
If it overexposes, lower the shutter speed to 3 seconds, then check the results again.

Tip: If your camera has bulb mode (where the shutter stays open as long as you hold the shutter release button down), this works greathold the shutter button down when the rocket bursts, then release when the light trails start to fade. (By the way, most Canon and Nikon digital SLRs have bulb mode.) The rest is timingbecause now you've got the exposure and sharpness covered.
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12/04/2009

The Golden Rule of Landscape Photo



There's a golden rule of landscape photography, and you can follow every tip in this chapter, but without strictly following this rule, you'll never get the results the top pros do.

As a landscape photographer, you can only shoot two times a day

1. dawn
You can shoot about 15 to 30 minutes before sunrise, and then from 30 minutes to an hour (depending on how harsh the light becomes) afterward. The only other time you can shoot is:

(2) dusk 
You can shoot from 15 to 30 minutes before sunset, and up to 30 minutes afterward.

Why only these two times? Because that's the rule.

Okay, there's more to it than that. These are the only times of day when you get the soft, warm light and soft shadows that give professional quality lighting for landscapes.

How stringent is this rule? I'll never forget the time I was doing a Q&A session for professional photographers. The other instructor was legendary National Geographic photographer Joe McNally. A man in the crowd asked Joe, "Can you really only shoot at dawn and dusk?" Joe quietly took his tripod and beat that man to death. Okay, that's an exaggeration, but what Joe said has always stuck with me. He said that today's photo editors (at the big magazines) feel so strongly about this that they won't even consider looking at any of his, or any other photographer's, landscape work if it's not shot at dawn or dusk. He also said that if he takes them a shot and says, "Look, it wasn't taken during those magic hours, but the shot is amazing," they'll still refuse to even look at it.

The point is, professional landscape photographers shoot at those two times of day, and only those two times. If you want pro results, those are the only times you'll be shooting, too.
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