FocusPhoto: Blog en-us (C) FocusPhoto (FocusPhoto) Wed, 18 Sep 2013 16:22:00 GMT Wed, 18 Sep 2013 16:22:00 GMT FocusPhoto: Blog 120 46 Should you buy a Nikon or Canon? "So I'm thinking of getting a new camera, maybe one of those - what do you call them, the better ones? DSL-somethings? What kind should I get? Nikon or Canon?"
They're called DSLRs.
And it really, truly doesn't matter what brand you get. Oh, and don't forget - Sony and Pentax and Lyca make some fine cameras as well.
Now, if you stopped reading right there, you might suppose, with some puzzlement, that I don't have a preference.
In fact, I have an incredibly strong preference, bordering on blind devotion.
I am a Nikon guy. And I'm a Nikon guy simply because the person who helped me get started in photography was a Nikon guy. Being a Nikon guy, my mentor was naturally better informed about Nikon cameras, lenses, and accessories. I valued his time and advice, and wanted to use what HE used, thinking it would help my learning and discovery process. It did. I can't tell you how many times I called him from the field, stuck, and he was able to tell me just what do, straight from his own memory of his Nikon's buttons and controls.
Notice I haven't said anything about actual image quality. That's because these days, even "low end" DSLR cameras are capable of amazing image quality.
And like my mentor, I stayed with Nikon - starting with that first D70 and moving up to a D80, then a D300, and most recently a D800 - because of the hardware investment. You see, lenses - the most important and expensive proposition for enthusiasts and professional photographers alike - are simply not interchangeable.  Not even third-party lenses from manufacturers like Sigma. In fact, Sigma has to produce both Nikon and Canon versions of its entire line. 
Now, if you buy a camera body with a cheap kit lens, switching from Nikon to Canon might not be a big deal. But once I handed over my credit card to purchase a nearly $2000 lens - Nikon's much-revered 70-200 f/2.8 VR - I pretty much sealed my fate as a Nikonian (yes, that's the word we use for ourselves. I have no idea what the Canon equivalent is). In that one swipe of plastic, I married Nikon, just as a Mac user with a hefty investment in Mac-only software and accessories is gonna have to stay in the Mac world for a while.  Same thing is true of accessories, like flash heads, remote shutter devices, battery packs, and so on. Everything is proprietary. (well, not tripods, bags, and storage cards of course, but you get the idea).
Software is another point of lock-in, although not as critical for some. Nikon and Canon each have their own RAW image formats, each with subtle differences in tone and color and 'knit' as my mentor used to call it. My portfolio has its own style, based on my own custom recipe for image output. Right or wrong, good or bad, it's what I'm used to, and I can post-process hundreds of images like a champ based on my familiarity with my camera's RAW output. Switching to a Canon, with Canon-specific RAW renderings, upsets that apple cart. 
So for the person asking "Nikon or Canon?" my answer is the same - it really doesn't matter. Nikon and Canon and Sony and Pentax are in a continual battle, a tug-of-war with each of them trading places as leaders and innovators. Nikon released the D800 and people were amazed. Canon counters with an update to its flagship line that finally gets DSLR video right, and now it's in the lead. Nikon will release a D500, and that will fill a void in its offering. And so goes the dance, on and on.  DSLR quality and feature sets advance so quickly that it's nearly impossible to really say who's in the lead at any one given time. Even if one or the other has the lead today, there's no telling how long it will last.
The good news, in my opinion, is that most of the time the consumer wins. Camera technology keeps getting better and better, with costs (relatively) holding the line.  Sure, it might take you longer to decide what to purchase, what will all the options and features available, but you're almost guaranteed to get a camera with great image quality and features that blow away models from just 5 years ago (that doesn't guarantee you will take good pictures, of course, but you'll have the capacity to do so).
I can say this for sure: If you're in the market for a new DSLR AND you happen to know me personally, then I'd say go for a Nikon. That way, when you bring it to me because you can't figure something out, only one of us will be confused.
]]> (FocusPhoto) Wed, 18 Sep 2013 16:22:33 GMT
Do What You Do Best, Leave the Rest I read an interesting post the other day on a Web site called "12Most," which brands itself as "savvy smartitude for busy professionals in easy-to-digest list posts that mean business."

Called  "The 12 Most Urgent Reasons to Hire a Professional Writer," it said everything I could ever say on the topic, so I’ll just summarize here:  When it comes to writing for your business, the "don't-try-this-at-home-kids" advice is very much sound.

I'm a writer by education, and have drawn paychecks for it. It’s not my primary gig these days, of course, but  I call upon my writing education and skills and experience every single day. I have no reservations about legitimately calling myself A Writer. And yet I’m still not as good as I'd like to be.

Professional writing takes practice and time – lots of time.  I’m sure some writers just start hacking away and come up with gold on their first passes, but most writers have to work at it. They put real effort into:

  • Figuring out their primary objectives
  • Organizing and outlining key points that support those objectives
  • Crafting sentences to  deliver the goods, using situation-appropriate styles and voices
  • Editing and cutting ruthlessly to stay on-point
  • Proofing for grammar and punctuation
  • Re-writing for coherence and unity
  • Reading anything and everything, until their eyes bleed

Do you have time for all of that? Probably not. And it will show, if you decide to bumble through it anyway. Most people can't put their finger on what makes a piece of writing great, but they sure can sniff out the bad stuff pretty quickly. And that bad stuff can really hurt your professional image.

Let a professional do it. No shame in that. It doesn't mean you don't understand your own market or customers.  It only means that writing is not your thing. Something else is. So do what you do best, and leave the rest to capable professionals.

All of this can be said about photography, too. Just as we can all read and write sentences, we can all buy cameras and push shutter buttons. But it doesn't mean we should. Yeah, the results might be passable. But is 'passable' what you want to show your clients and prospects? Are you really content with putting your name on something that's merely not terrible? With this in mind (you knew this was coming), here's my own list: 

6 Reasons To Let a Professional Handle Your Photography Needs

1. Getting the shots is much, much less a question of luck for pros. They know how to compose scenes and frame subjects, how near or far away to stand, what depth of field is appropriate, what shutter speed will freeze or blur motion, which lenses to use in the first place, and so on. People who make a living taking pictures need to be good at getting the shots right in the first place.  Even if they do get a second chance to make amends for a botched shoot (which they rarely do), they sure as heck don't want to dilute their income or ding their reputations with do-overs.

2. They understand light. And not just an understanding that "if it's sunny outside,  I don’t need flash." (hint: you might need fill flash).  They know how the warmth or coolness of a light source can impact a photo, how to bounce and bend light, how multiple light sources combine for different effects, and how to position subjects properly to take advantage of available light. If you're doing outside portraits at high noon and use the sun as a giant strobe, your model will probably not like how she looks. Squinty-eyed  face-scrunching with bright forehead reflections is not a good look for most people. That's why I hate my college graduation photo.

3. They have the right gear. Now, we've all heard the purists talk about how Ansel Adams worked with gear primitive by today's standards.  I could do an entire shoot with just one lens and an older camera, if I had to. But I don’t have to. We're talking about getting great images for paying customers, efficiently and effectively.  For best results, I need the ability to adapt to different scenes and situations. That's why it helps to have a variety of tools in my bag.  I might need to move uphill,  30 yards away, to get an angle just right. And that means mounting my 200mm lens with image stabilization, or breaking out the heavy-duty tripod with multiple leg adjustments. Do you have a remote shutter trigger, so that you can stage your subject without having to keep going back and forth to the camera? How about multiple flash units or some reflector umbrellas?  Well-lit backdrops? What about wide angle lenses? All of these tools help photographers get the job done without making sacrifices or taking shortcuts.

4. Pros know how to post-process, understanding that less often really means "less offensive to the eye." They have instincts for making great crops – but,  ironically, they don't have to crop much to begin with because they’re good at getting the shots right in-camera. That’s important, because cropping means throwing away pixels, which ultimately means a lower working resolution.

5. They use professional-grade software to tweak what the camera sees, not to outright replace it. They don't "spray and pray" in continuous shooting mode (unless it's a sports assignment), assuming they can just go fix everything in Photoshop later.  As fun as messing around in Photoshop is,  clean-up work can be incredibly time consuming and tedious. One time a few years back,  I spent more time rescuing a single image than I spent on the entire shoot.  Again, professional photographers - like any other professionals - want to deliver the best service for their customers in the least amount of time possible. Otherwise, if we did the math we'd realize we could make as much dough working at McDonald's. Probably more, when you factor in the cost of gear and software and gas.

5. They know what terms like resolution, DPI, and color space mean - and know how to apply that knowledge. They know that shooting in RAW format gives them the most flexibility for post-processing because RAW formats are true digital negatives (RAW images never, ever change or degrade; they’re permanent sources with instructions on how they should be output). Speaking of output, it's more important than most people realize.  Not all Jpegs are created equal. And some images will never see life as Jpegs in the first place. For example, your printing vendor is going to want 300 DPI  Tiff images for your full-page spread - NOT a collection of 1000-pixel wide Jpegs which can only print at a few inches.

6. After all the shooting is done, after all the adjustments are made, after clients get the goods and cut the checks, professionals know how to properly tag and store and archive everything for future needs.  They know how to let their software do the heavy lifting when it comes to searching and cataloging, using metadata and EXIF codes to help them quickly find things later. If you're a do-it-yourself type - working in the real estate market, how quickly could you find every single photo you took in 2012 that meets the criteria of being an outside shot, in the summer, in York PA? Oh, and pros are big believers in backups, storing copies in two or three different places.

Of course, every business and every situation is different. Sometimes, professional photography just isn't warranted. Maybe 'good enough' really is good enough. Maybe you're a dealer for a company that provides excellent product photography through its distributor portal or extranet. For example, one of my favorite clients is a Harley-Davidson dealership. You can bet that the HD mothership invests heavily in providing excellent image libraries for its dealerships.

But wait a second. This dealership ended up being one of my biggest photography clients last year. They didn't need me to take photos of the latest models; they've got free access to beautiful product photography, lit in a high-end studio and probably captured with $20k camera systems by staff photographers who specialize in motorcycles. But what they did need was pictures of their dealership and its various departments, photos of the people who work there, creative shots of inventory on their showroom floor, clothes and accessories in their store, and mechanics working on bikes.  Headquarters couldn't and wouldn't provide that. By combining the high-end photos from corporate with the custom work I did for them, we were able to produce a visually-striking and appealing Web site that puts a lot of miles between their Web site and their competitors' offerings. 

Clearly, the 'don’t’ try this at home' advice was advice they were really smart to take. The people at this dealership are well-versed in the latest models and features. They know how to repair or accessorize motorcycles. They understand what it takes to provide good customer service within a dealership model of business. But had they overextended themselves and tried to include photography (or professional writing) to their repertoire, the site would have suffered for it.  Instead, they now have great images that really help pay-off their position:  "We're a unique, distinct, and substantial dealership full of great people and products."

]]> (FocusPhoto) Wed, 05 Jun 2013 10:49:22 GMT
The most useful gadget not in your bag This gadget can help you take bad, cheesy family Christmas portraits OR turn you into a National Geographic wildlife photographer. Choose wisely!

When I first started to really get serious about photography, I was always watching other photographers to see what kinds of gadgets they used. Some of it was gadget envy, but mostly I was just really curious to learn about all the tools of the trade.
A friend of mine had a small photography studio, use mainly for engagement, baby, and family portraits. He'd be right there in the middle of the scene, posing teddy bears, scootching people over, rotating shoulders just a little to the left, fluffing backdrops or blankets, and moving strands of hairs out of faces.
And instead of running back to get behind the camera, hoping the scene stayed intact long enough for him to focus and snap the shutter, he just stood off to the side and magically the shutter went off.
I thought maybe he set the timer on his camrea, and was just really, really good at working with scenes and talking while counting down in his head. "I don't know how you seem to get out of the frame right before the shutter snaps," I told him. "You could probably be the drummer for Rush." 
He laughed, and pulled a little doohickey out of his pocket - about the size of a pack of gum. "Wireless shutter release, dude. Get one."
So off to Google I went. My camera (at the time, a D80), had a built-in infrared receiver and so, for a few bucks, I could buy a compatible wireless shutter release.

Middlecreek Wildlife Preserve

I used it for all kinds of things, including shots with such long exposure settings that even the physical act of depressing the shutton button on the camera with my finger would introduce enough vibration in the camera body and tripod that sharpeness suffered. 
I also used it for taking pictures of my kids. It's amazing how much their demeanor changes when you start pointing the lens at them. They stop being natural and go into this "here we go again, dad's got the camera out" mode, complete with those fake,  ham-it-up smiles that aren't nearly as beautiful as their real ones. With a wireless shutter, I could interact with them naturally, nothing between us, and just keep snapping away.
Somewhere down the line, I lost the wireless remote and bought a second one. Then I ran the second one through the wash. And I never bought another one. Not sure why. Maybe because around that time I was really into sports photography, and didn't need a wireless shutter as much?
Anyways, fast-forward many years later. I'm shooting a D800 and really enjoying the benefits of a full-frame, high-resolution body. I've been doing lots of interior work lately, including real estate photography requiring ultra-wide shots from a tripod in such tight spaces that there's not enough room for me behind the tripod.
So - yes, you guessed it - I got a new wireless shutter release the other day. Holy cow, these things have come a long way! This unit, the Nikon RFN-4s, has a discrete little receiver with an antenna that plugs into the shutter release port in the front of the camera, and a very nice shutter release device with a sliding cover on the front which keeps you from accidentally depressing the button. The receiver has two indicator lights, one to tell you that the unit's on and ready for business, and one to tell you that the camera has acquired focus (from half-pressing the button. A single AAA battery powers the whole thing.
I spent about half an hour testing it. My verdict? Even if you don't anticipate needing to control vibration on long exposure shots, I'd consider getting one anyways. Within just a few minutes of testing this thing, ideas for more creative uses started popping into my head. 
First thing I thought of was our cute little dog, Sophie. I've been trying to get some good snaps of her (she's such an expressive character!) but not having much luck. She never sits still for long, and for some reason the camera seems to make her skittish. As soon as I pull the camera up to my face and start to focus, she skittles away. And because she's all-black with just a whisp of white on her chin and chest, it takes a little time to acquire focus.

Wireless shutter kit

With my wireless shutter release, I can set the camera on my coffe table, sit back in my Lazy Boy, and wait for her to move into the frame.  If I get lucky, she'll put her nose right up to the lens and I'll have a really cool, distored doggie photo of this nutty little pup. Only downside is, if she's extra curious I might have to wipe nose prints off the lens. I can live with that.
Now that I think about it, wildlife photographers often use wireless shutter releases for pretty much the same reason. They can set up a cover screen or hide in a blind, and position themselves far enough away that they won't scare off animals or birds. Or, if they're taking photos of potentially dangerous beasties, they can get up in a tree or stay in their cars for safety.
Another great use a for wireless shutter release: self portraits.  Self portrature is incredibly popular these days, but for different reasons and with different standards than in the past. Every day, hundreds of thousands of smartphone self-portraits end up on Facebook, dating sites, and other places on the Web. And the vast percentage are not taken in any sort of artistic or creative way. They're just instant-gratification Polaroids, really. 
The worst of them come happen in bathrooms, with crappy LED flashing into mirrors over vanities. You may or may not also get to see people's smartphones, forarms and fingers, dirty showers, towel racks, baskets of cluttered personal care products, and - I kid you not, this photo made the rounds about a year ago - disgusting unflushed toilets. Sadly, back in the day - including my college photography classes - self-portriature was thought of as a distinct photographic art form.  Today, not so much.
Yes, you can use your camera's timer feature for self-portraits. But a wireless shutter release really opens up the possibilities. It's how I took the photo of myself used on this site and my Facebook business page. You can move ever-so-slightly and get photos from all sorts of different angles and sides, change clothing, and so on.
Christmas is coming up, and depending on your criteria for what constitutes a good stocking-stuffer (i.e., cost, size, and/or edibility of items stuffed into aforementioned stocking), this might be a good one for the photo nerd in your family. 
Or, if you're the type to send out family portraits with Mom, Dad, baby, brother, and sister all in front of the tree, wearing awful sweaters and reindeer hats, get one before Christmas. 
Just don't put that picture on Facebook, please. I can't guarantee I'll be able to keep my comments to myself.
]]> (FocusPhoto) wireless shutter release Mon, 05 Nov 2012 09:40:06 GMT
Pencil it in! As a hobby, photography might not seem all that complicated or restrictive when it comes to scheduling. You can't generally go fly fishing or play golf in the dark. You can only ski in the winter (at least in PA/NY). Even cycling, my other favorite thing to do, requires some planning.

But photography - you just pick up your camera and go take pictures of...whatever. After all, it's an artistic passion! Art does not wait until you can set a play-date with yourself! You don't need to 'pencil' anything in.

Mmm, yes and no. Sometimes it's fun to mount the macro lens and sit at the kitchen table and mess around with a bowl of fruit. Or to experiment with lighting subjects in the studio, should you be fortunate enough to have access to one. And of course, don't forget about your cat or dog, ever the loyal standby for when you want to press the shutter button but can't really think of anything else to photograph.

But I'd argue that if you really want to improve your skills and possibly land 'that' shot that makes a session worth all the time and effort, consider looking for great 'excuses' for taking pictures. 

I belong to the Lancaster County Photo Meet-Up group, and that's basically what they're all about: they find events that might be fun or challenging to photograph. This past Saturday, I went to Civil War Days at Landis Valley Museum - something I might not have heard about or even considered before joining the Meet-Up group.  Of course, the more socially-oriented folks like to mingle with other group members.

They have critique sessions and contests with different themes. The current contest,   is something yellow in the food category. Bananas come to mind, of course, and I'm sure there will be lots of those. Each member can submit two. What a great motivator - and one that didn't come from your own brain, so maybe you'll encounter topics and themes you normally wouldn't think of on your own. Kind of like keeping your fitness training going by signing up for a 5k in the fall.

Local concerts and parades provide great opportunities as well, and if you happen to know the fellas in a band they certainly appreciate free images. Slimfit is my favorite local band AND they're photogenic and still small enough to be very accessible. A Slimfit show is a perfect  excuse to blow the dust off the long lens and get out there and fire away. Long's Park concerts are great for this, too. 

Anyways, my point is that when I really feel like mixing it up and practicing with different lenses and techniques, I look for suitable events and start entering dates in my calendar. It doesn't have to be anything you've previously had any passion for, or interest in. The key is that they provide opportunities to tell interesting stories with your camera and learn new things. Think of these events or outings as 'gigs' and yourself as a photojournalist, harvesting images for your favorite magazine or web site.

In no particular order, some things I definitely want to photograph soon:

  • A classic car show
  • An air show
  • A World War II encampment / re-enactment
  • A college football game
  • A bike race
  • A demolition derby
  • A circus performance

How about you? 

Oh by they way, anyone got any ideas for this yellow food category? I'm still stuck on bananas. Lemons, maybe? What about a food that started out as some other color but TURNED yellow...that might be it...hmmm...

]]> (FocusPhoto) Tue, 31 Jul 2012 12:10:19 GMT
How to do photography when you can't/won't do photography So, it's been really hot here in Lancaster County for the past few weeks. We're supposed to get record-high temperatures today. Which sucks, because (due to some weird circumstances; that's another story...) I've got today "off." And I've got a new camera, a new lens, and a new membership to Longwood Gardens, which is a beautiful place to shoot. But, not so much fun when it's over 100 degrees and humid.

Yet it still feels like a Photography Day. So what are some alternatives for Photography Day, when you can't or don't want to actually go outside take pictures yet you still want to feel like a photographer? (yes, I'm aware that you can take pictures inside too but that kills the topical tie-in with our current weather situation so I'll thank you to not comment on that)

In no particular order:

  • Make sure your photo library backups are in-order (including catalogs, if you use Lightroom or Aperture or iPhoto or something similar)

  • Cull your library and delete all those blurry photos you marked for deletion in Bridge or Lightroom, but forgot to actually delete.

  • Check out some photography training videos on - they've got great lessons on everything from mastering composition and shooting in natural light to using Photoshop. And they have free trials.

  • Pull out your camera manual and flip to random pages. You wouldn't believe all the little tidbits hiding in there! I'm keeping mine in the bathroom from now on (with PDF versions on my computer, iPhone, and iPad of course). What, you don't read in the bathroom? Right.  Listen, I'm the only one in this household who does, and I read at least four times as many books as anyone else here, so get over yourself.

  • Check out other photographers in your zip code. Start at the Professional Photographers of America web site (which I'm considering joining for the equipment insurance). Most of the members have web sites and online galleries. Some will make you feel horrible about your skills; others will boost your confidence in your own abilities. So it's a wash. But, you can see different styles, poses, approaches to group shots, etc.  Then try them out on your next shoot. Steal ideas (nothing new under the sun, yadda yadda yadda...). The other great thing about scoping-out local photographer web sites is that you can sometimes find out about great area locations for portraits and family shots. 

  • Spend some quality time at your favorite photography-oriented web sites. There is SOOO much good stuff out there, it's unreal. I especially like sites with user forums. It's fascinating to read questions, answers, and opinions from photogs ranging from $15,000 per gig wedding photographers to gear-nuts to "Soccer Sally's." (my favorites listed at the end).

  • Calibrate your monitor.

  • Check your photo printer's ink supply. Just like your driver's license renewal, getting new ink carts is NOT something that's fun to try to do at the last second.  

  • Clean-up your gear. If you haven't done an in-camera sensor cleaning in a while, now's a good time. Read the manual first (it's in the bathroom). Dust off your lenses. Don't forget your camera bag. One time, I had all my gear out of it, turned it upside down to shake out what I thought were a few leaves and twigs - and was amazed at the crap that came out.

  • Replace the worn-off incremental tape you put on your tripod legs. What?! You've never put tape on your tripod legs to mark off equal units on all three legs? Silly boy/girl! What, you don't own or use a tripod? You're even sillier than I thought!

  • Scan all your gear receipts and update your equipment list (including serial numbers, purchase date and location, and price paid). And save those files somewhere in the cloud, like Google Docs or Dropbox. If your gear ever gets stolen or lost in a flood or fire, you'll appreciate having this info for your insurance company. It's also helpful if you decide to sell a lens on eBay or Craig's List - you'll know what you paid for everything. 

  • Mess around with photography apps on your iPad

  • Figure out a way to become independently wealthy so that you can build a bitchin' studio in your basement and break into the supermodel portfolio niche.

How about you? What do you do with your photography hobby when you can't actually be outside taking pictures?

Favorite Photography Resources on the Web:

]]> (FocusPhoto) Sat, 07 Jul 2012 13:44:52 GMT
Getting Vertical with the D800 So I've had my D800 for a few weeks now, and have really enjoyed putting it through its paces and seeing what it's capable of. 

What I haven't enjoyed is shooting without a vertical grip. I've had one on my other, older camera (D300) since I first got it. 

I'm a huge vertical grip fan for two main reasons:

  • Gives you an additional battery compartment as well as a tray for using AA batteries in a pinch
  • Makes vertical shots much easier to take, because the grip has focus selector and shutter release buttons right on it. No contortions necessary when rotating the camera to the vertical position

But I've discovered a third reason why I like using a grip so much: comfort.

Even though it adds to the camera's weight and bulk, the grip gives my right hand more area for, well, gripping.  The D800 body without a grip seems small and my hand gets cramped holding on to it for long periods. And with a heavy lens attached, the grip just seems to balance things out.

Unfortunately, the grip on my D300 is not compatible; Nikon released an all-new grip, the MDB-12, for the D800. And it costs more than grips for older models, despite bringing no new features to the table.  Sigh.

But, life's too short to not get as much enjoyment from your work and hobbies as possible. My grip's on the way in, and my gripes are on the way out.

]]> (FocusPhoto) Tue, 03 Jul 2012 11:45:12 GMT