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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Buying your first camera and lens- Compromise, compromise, compromise

Buying a camera and a lens can be challenging for all of us. Cameras and lenses come in all shapes, sizes and price. So which one should you buy???? Well, as I often say in the class, the answer is “It depends.” Ask yourself some questions: What do I plan to use the camera/lens for? Do you want full frame or APS-C lens? Zoom or prime lens? Because if you mount an APS-C lens on a full frame camera body, you will loose information around the edge of the picture. It all boils down to one major question: How much money do you want to spend on your first DSLR and lens? If you can answer this question, get ready to compromise (kit lens vs specialty lens vs third party lens, full frame sensor vs cropped frame sensor, camera features, including live view, bracketing, etc.).

If you want to do sports photography or you plan to take pictures of birds (and you can’t get closer to your subjects), you may need a telephoto lens or supertele (400 mm and up on a full frame camera, 300 mm on a cropped frame camera but these lenses tend to be HEAVY and expensive) and you can also buy a matching teleconverter (you loose image quality). You can also look into third party lenses like Tamron or Sigma. Often times, third party lenses are cheaper. Or you can try a kit tele-zoom lens. I have used a kit tele-zoom lens when I shot night time football pics and I was okay with the results (I used monopod/tripod) because I knew I could not afford a faster telephoto lens.

If you want to do sports photography in low light, you may need a fast (f 1.4, f. 2, f. 2.8) telephoto lens (with a focal length of 135-300 mm and up).

The size of the image sensor determines the cost of the camera (full frame vs. cropped frame). In addition, if you plan to do sports photography in low light conditions/nighttime photography (when you use available light), you may need a camera with high ISO capabilities. When you shop for a camera you might want to consider the digital sensor. For instance, the Canon 7D or the Nikon D300 have a cropped sensor APS-C which is not bad at all. I think you need to be a Pro to justify spending a big hunk of money for a full frame camera like the Nikon D700. As a photojournalist, I am happy with my cropped sensor camera and when I decided to go with the cropped sensor camera PRICE was a major issue (the lenses for APS-C cameras are cheaper too). To read the debate on the digital sensor size, go to Cambridgeincolor.

A couple of things I want to point out about full size sensors. These cameras perform very well under low light conditions (high ISO capabilities with less digital noise), have better image quality BUT they are expensive.

If you plan to shoot close-ups of bugs and flowers, you should look into a macro lens (about 50-200 mm in a full camera, 35-200 mm on APS-C). These lenses tend to be expensive and they are used for macro photography only.

Ultra-wide zoom and prime lenses (14-24 mm on a full frame, 10-20 mm on a cropped frame) are used in environmental portrait, landscape, and architecture photography. The main problem with any wide angle lens is the distortion you will get (Barrel distortion bends lines outward, pincushion bends the lines inward- but lens distortion can be corrected in PS or Lightroom).

Wide angle lenses (21-35 mm) are mainly used in landscape photography.

I hope this helps you a bit. You may want to check out the Digital Picture link.

and DP Review for the specs on cameras and lenses.

Another great source is CNET. -- it's like the Consumer Reports for electronics ... they also rate online sellers AND rank selling prices from low to high (if you click on the header of the price column to sort the listing in this manner) so you can shop with confidence ...

B&H Photo out of NYC put together a guide for "prosumer" DSLRs and it's worth a read. The video is also nice.

Though they go through some technical stuff, most of the concepts are covered during the course so it shouldn't be totally foreign to you. Take notes. If you have questions, ask me.

So far, here are my three cents:
• stick with either Canon or Nikon and you can't go wrong regarding your investment. If you plan to stay with the same brand camera, I would encourage you to buy better lenses that would fit the camera brand of your choice.
• my most recent camera body purchase is the Nikon D300, and -- I did NOT purchase a kit lens with this camera; rather, I went with a third-party zoom lens that also has macro capability (no Nikon zoom lens offered macro -- close-up -- shooting at the time I made my purchase 2 years ago); macro allows me to focus very closely on small objects which are great for photojournalism detail shots OR things you may be selling on eBay; my third party lens is made by Tamron (other third partly lenses are Sigma, Cosina, etc.). Note that all third party lenses are made to specifically fit a manufacturer's camera body, like Canon or Nikon, so if you order one ... do make sure you are buying the one that fits the brand of camera you own or are buying ... a Canon mount lens will not work on a Nikon, etc.
• used gear- Another option is to buy a used camera from an authorized dealer like Cameta Camera or B&H. Both companies have competitive pricing, you won't be paying sales tax, shipping is often free AND they have a wonderful return team so if you don't like what you purchased, it's easy to send it back (not all online retailers are this nice about return authorizations).
Bottom line, buy a camera you can afford and you can use.

Pinhole Cameras and Pinhole Photography

Digital Imaging with Pinholes, Zone Plates, and Alternatives, a manual

Nikon pinhole adapters on eBay

I have one on order $29.75
+$7.95 shipping

Pinhole images

Pinhole videos

History of pinhole cameras

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Home-based Abstract Writers for the New York Times Regional Media Group Editing Center

My friend, freelance journalist, Susan Ladika emailed me about this freelance opportunity.

This ad (see below) is running now in the Gainesville Sun. The background: The client really is an international newspaper and the work is boiling down stories to 100-200 word summaries with a headline. Pay, I've heard, is $20 an hour. Hours are basically midnight to 6 a.m., though I also have heard that there may be some flexibility on the front end but bulk of the work is during that time frame.
If you are a night owl and want to earn some extra money, this might be worth a look. Often work-from-home jobs are a scam, but this one is not. They're creating the space at the editing center now for the project, which will launch in September.
If you are not interested, but know of someone who would be, please pass it on.
Have a great Thursday,

Home-based Abstract Writers

The New York Times Regional Media Group Editing Center in Gainesville is looking for freelancers to write summaries of articles appearing in a leading international newspaper. The successful applicant will have above-average reading comprehension and writing skills and be able to function under deadline pressure. Computer skills and command of English language are essential. Journalism background helpful, but not required. Applicants should be available to work from home or other remote location at night and/or early morning hours. The editing center is located in The Gainesville Sun. If interested, please send resume to

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

National Estuaries Day Photo Contest

National Estuaries Day Photo Contest

Help celebrate National Estuaries Day by entering a photo that captures the beauty of Tampa Bay in Weedon Island Preserve's "Tampa Bay Estuary Photo Moments" Contest. The contest is open to all amateur photographers. Deadline is September 17 to submit a matted or framed 8 x 10 or 11 x 14 print. Submittals can be mailed or hand delivered to Weedon Island Preserve's Cultural and Natural History Center. Prizes include eco-tours and donated kayak trips. Contest winners will be announced during the National Estuaries Day program at Weedon Island on September 25. Sponsors include the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, Sweetwater Kayaks, and Sensing Nature, LLC.

Weedon Island Preserve Cultural and Natural History Center
1800 Weedon Drive NE
St. Petersburg, Florida 33702


Center Hours:
Open Thursday - Saturday, 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Closed Holidays

Preserve Hours:
Open daily, 7:00 a.m. to time posted, approximately 15 minutes before sunset. Daily closing time is posted at the entrance to the Preserve.
Open Holidays

Monday, August 16, 2010

Tip 1: Fill Flash Why Should I Use Fill Flash?

My friend, blogger, Kevin Hing, purchased a nice camera- Nikon D300s and asked for some tips he can use while he is in Ireland.
First tip, put me in your luggage, Kev :)
These tips may be useful for beginner photographers too.
Before you buy a camera, do your research to make sure that you are buying the product you need. A good source for this is and their review of the Nikon D300s is quite good.

1. Fill Flash
The on-camera flash can be useful when shooting a subject in low light or shadow. In this example, my subject was backlit, so her face had no detail in the first image that I shot without flash and using ambient light.

There are various ways to "doctor" this image, but the easiest is to use the on-camera fill flash. If the light is to harsh looking, you can place a tissue/Band Aid over your built-in flash to soften the light. Try it with the tissue and without and see which one you like it.

• you can also control the amount of fill flash falling on your subject's face by the distance you stand from the subject. If you are closer to your subject, you let in more light; if you are farther away = less light -- use the zoom feature of your camera to pleasingly frame the subject's face regardless of the distance between the two of you

• the objective of the fill flash is to "fill in" just a little to enhance the quality of light already falling on the subject's face -- fill flash can be used in direct sunlight or open shade to augment available light

In the second picture, I used on-camera flash with a tissue. As you can see, the subject's face has details now.

In order to reduce the disturbing light shining through the window behind her, I zoomed in on her face in the third photo because she is the subject of my image.

Experiment with this technique before you go out to take fill flash portraits.

Here is an image where the fill flash is too harsh.All the images in this post were unprocessed.
An example on Fill- Flash photography is Apple bobbing.

Monday, August 9, 2010

RAW vs. JPEG in Wedding Photography

Wedding shoots scare me to death because there is no chance to reshoot the images: if I miss a moment, it is a lost one. But as always, do your research and scout the place before you get there. My last photoshoot was this Saturday at Josephine and Arthur’s 25th Wedding Anniversary. The assignment was challenging because I had to take pictures in a room with big windows and my backdrop for group shots was a white wall with a painting on it. Not to mention the white dress Josephine was wearing and the 15 person group shot that was a last minute decision.

I shot the pictures in RAW format because I was afraid that I need to do more post production. All the images in the album are proofs and I edited them a little (crop, sharpen, dodge). Next time, I would shoot the images in JPEG to save time. Ultimately, I think I made the right decision because I was shooting in low light and I had high contrast issues. I also had plenty of space on my camera’s compact flash card. After I shot the images in RAW, I edited them in Lightroom 3 and saved them in JPEG format to upload them on the photo gallery. Some photographers recommend saving the processed images in DNG format (it’s lossless) instead of the JPEG format.

So, why shoot JPEG/JPG? This file format is already compressed and processed inside the camera, JPEGs can be opened in all photo editing programs, and this file format allows for minimal post-processing. Minimal processing is what photojournalists do. BUT, every time you edit a JPEG , you lose information and sometimes the camera may not process the file correctly. Shoot JPEG to save time and space on your harddrive and flashcard. Most photojournalists shoot JPEG. One of the best wedding photographers, Jasmine Star, also shoots JPEGs. I would still recommend using the largest JPEG format available to take images.

Why shoot RAW? If you think you need to do more post-processing on your images, shoot RAW. RAW images are unprocessed (lossless file format) and contain more data. Thus, the photographer can do more post-production work on the images. BUT, RAW files are much larger and take up a lot of space on your camera card.
Before you decide in which format you shoot, I would recommend you to shoot RAW+ small JPEG to see the difference.

Ken Rockwell gives a good explanation on the RAW vs. JPEG.
Another tutorial on RAW vs. JPEG is on the Digital Photography School’s site.