September 2011 Archives

When you are using the camera's autofocus tracking system on a moving subject and something gets between you and the subject, what will your camera do? Will it forget about the subject it was tracking and grab focus on the intruding object, or will it ignore the intruder and keep right on tracking your original subject?

The answer to this question is related to how you have the custom setting called "lock-on" set. Focus tracking with lock-on allows you to select the length of time that your camera will ignore an intruding object that blocks your subject. It is found in the Custom Setting Menu under a Autofocus.

How does it work? Let’s say you are focused on a bird flying past you. As you pan the camera with the bird’s movement, the autofocus system tracks it and keeps it in good focus. As the bird flies by, a road sign briefly interrupts the focus tracking as the bird moves behind it and then re-emerges. How would you feel if the bright, high-contrast road sign grabbed the camera’s attention and you lost tracking on the bird? That would be quite aggravating, wouldn’t it?

Nikon provides Focus tracking with lock-on to prevent this from happening. The “lock-on” portion of this function helps your camera keep its focus on your subject, even if something briefly comes between the camera and subject. The camera locks on to your subject doggedly if this function is enabled. Without Focus tracking with lock-on, any bright object that gets between you and your subject may draw the camera’s attention and cause you to lose focus on the subject.

The camera provides a variable time-out period for the lock-on functionality. Lock-on time-out allows an object that stays between the camera and your subject for a predetermined length of time to attract the camera’s attention. You can adjust the length of this time-out with a time period from Short to Long.

You’ll need to test the time-out length to see which works best for you.  You might start with the factory default Normal and let something get between you and your subject. If you’d like the camera to ignore an intruding subject for a longer time, move the setting toward Long, or for less time, toward Short.
 
I wouldn’t suggest turning it Off unless you fully understand how it works and do not need focus tracking that locks on to your subject. Following are the screens to configure Focus tracking with lock-on:

FocusTrackingWithLockOn.jpgFigure 1 – Focus tracking with lock-on configuration

The screens shown above were taken from a Nikon D7000. There is some variance in which Custom Setting Number is used for Focus Tracking with Lock-On. Where the D7000 uses Custom Setting a3, the Nikon D300, D300S, D700, D2X, D3, D3S, and D3X uses Custom Setting a4. The lower end Nikons have a form of this function but you have no control over the settings.

With the variable timeout period (figure 1, screen 3) you can fine-tune how you want Focus tracking with lock-on to work. The camera can ignore an intruding subject for up to several seconds.

With Single-point AF, the camera will start the lock-on time-out as soon as the single AF point is unable to detect the subject.

With Dynamic-area AF or Auto-area AF and Focus tracking with lock-on enabled, I was amused at how adamant the camera was about staying with the current subject. I’d focus on a map on the wall and then cover most of the focusing points with the user’s manual. As long as I allowed at least one or two AF points to remain uncovered so it could see the map, the focus did not switch to the manual. I could just hear the camera muttering, “Hah, you can’t fool me. I can still see a little edge of that map there, so I’m not changing focus!”

Only when I stuck the camera's manual completely in front of the lens, covering all the AF points, did the camera decide to start timing the Focus tracking with lock-on time-out. After a few seconds, the camera would give up on the map and focus on the manual instead.

Try this yourself! It’s quite fun and will teach you something about the power of your camera’s AF system.  It will also let you see how long each setting causes the timeout to last, so that you can choose your favorite.

Does Lock-On Cause Autofocus to Slow Down?

Focus tracking with lock-on is an autofocus algorithm that allows your camera to maintain focus on a subject and ignore anything that comes between the camera and the subject for a period of time. It will “lock-on” that subject and track where it is on the array of AF points in the Viewfinder. Focus tracking with lock-on is controlled by configuring Custom setting a3 or a4 (per camera) to a duration period or to Off.

Some misunderstanding surrounds this technology. Since it is designed to cause the autofocus to hesitate for a variable time period before seeking a new subject, it may make the camera seem sluggish to some users.

But, this “sluggishness” is really a feature designed to keep you from losing your subject’s tracked focus. Once the camera locks on to a subject’s area of focus, it tries its best to stay with that subject even if it briefly loses the subject. This keeps the lens from racking in and out and searching for a new subject as soon as the previous subject is no longer under an AF point.

It also causes the camera to ignore other higher-contrast or closer subjects while it follows your original subject. You will have to judge the usefulness of this technology for yourself. I suggest that you go to some event, or down to the lake, and track moving objects with and without lock-on enabled. Your style of photography has a strong bearing on how you’ll use—or whether you’ll use—Focus tracking with lock-on.

Focus tracking with lock-on has little to do with how well the camera focuses. Instead, it is concerned with what it is focused on. There are several good reasons to leave Focus tracking with lock-on enabled in your camera.

If Focus tracking with lock-on is set to Off, Dynamic-area AF and Auto-area AF will instantly react to something coming between your subject and the camera. When you enable Focus tracking with lock-on, the camera will ignore anything that briefly gets between you and your subject. If you turn it off, your camera will happily switch focus to a closer subject even if it only appears in the frame for a moment. A good example of this is when you are tracking a moving subject and just as you are about to snap the picture, a closer or brighter object enters the edge of the frame and is picked up by an outside sensor. The camera may instantly switch focus to the intruding subject.

If you turn off Focus tracking with lock-on, you’ll have a camera that doesn’t know how to keep its attention on the subject you are trying to photograph if something interferes. When using Dynamic-area AF or Auto-area AF modes, I call turning off Focus tracking with lock-on “focus roulette!”

Configuring Focus tracking with lock-on is not difficult. However, you’ll need to decide just how long you want your camera to lock on to a subject before it decides that the subject is no longer available.

Should I Use Focus Tracking with Lock-On?

I leave Focus tracking with lock-on enabled at all times. When I’m tracking a moving subject, I don’t want my camera to be distracted by every bright object that gets in between me and the subject. Nikon gives us variable focus lock time-outs so we can change how long the camera will keep seeking the old subject, when we switch to a new one. I suggest you play around with this function until you fully understand how it works. Watch how long the camera stays locked on one subject’s area before an intruding object grabs its attention. This is one of those functions that people either love or hate. Personally, I find it quite useful for my type of photography. Try it and see what it does for you.

Keep on capturing time...
Darrell Young

See my Mastering The Nikon DSLR books at: 
http://www.photographywriter.com/NikonBooks.asp




Digital cameras have been around long enough that they have inherited controls from times before digital. The Auto mode is one of them. This mode is a form of intelligent point-and-shoot mode and some wonder if they should use it. While I often turn up my nose at scene modes, I do use Auto mode. What’s the difference?

Figure 1 – The Auto exposure mode on a Nikon camera’s mode dial

In a sense, the Auto mode found on the camera’s mode dial (small green camera), or in a menu on the monitor, turns the camera into a point-and-shoot model (figure 1). What makes it different from the scene modes? Auto mode is a generic mode designed to let the camera intelligently sense what is going on in front of the lens and get a good picture. The camera makes all the exposure decisions, as with a scene mode, except it is a one-mode-for-all-scenes solution.

When is Auto mode appropriate?

When I am at a party and simply want excellent pictures I often switch to Auto mode, put a small external flash unit on my camera, and blast away. The intelligent camera and flash does all the work as I walk around having a good time with my friends and family.

Why am I not ashamed of using Auto mode in certain circumstances? Merely because I have taken the time to understand how my camera works, mastering things like shutter speed and aperture settings, and now just want to take some nice pictures. I am not ashamed to use the technology built into my powerful camera.

However, when I start shooting a wedding, graduation, or event, I won’t be doing it in Auto mode. For those times when the camera is there for fun, Auto mode works very well; but not so much for commercial shooting.

However, let me qualify that. If I were an inexperienced photographer who had been asked to shoot a wedding and felt inadequate, I wouldn’t hesitate to switch to Auto mode. The camera is capable of making good images, even if I’m not—yet. Use the technology when you need to, that’s why it is there. I don’t think I would take the time to start fiddling around with scene modes, to me that is going too far. However, Auto mode is a one-size-fits-all solution that can help you in emergencies.

If I couldn’t get my normal experienced partner to shoot an event with me on short notice, I wouldn’t hesitate to hand one of my cameras to a semi-enthusiast photographer friend, with it set to Auto mode, and ask for his or her help in shooting the event. Today’s cameras will perform.

What are some drawbacks to Auto mode?

There are some “gotchas” when using Auto mode. One of them is image noise. In Auto mode the camera has full control of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO sensitivity. It will keep the ISO sensitivity low (under 800 ISO) until an aperture and shutter speed combination will not give it a good exposure. Then it will increase the ISO sensitivity to “get the shot.”

Higher ISO sensitivity can add digital noise to the image, decreasing its quality and lessening the image sharpness due to internal noise reduction blurring of the image. It will get an image when you press the shutter-release button; however, that image may have some problems due to high ISO settings.

Also, in Auto exposure mode you lose control of the flash. The camera decides when it has enough light or not enough and will fire the flash accordingly. If you happen to be shooting a group shot with a bright background, you may want the flash to fire to light up the group properly, but the camera may see that bright background and refuse to fire the flash, even though it is turned on. Now you have a silhouetted group with no facial detail and a perfectly exposed background.

Or, you may prefer to shoot an ambient light (no flash) close-up shot of a bride’s beautiful rings, but the camera fires the flash. You remove the external flash unit from the camera’s accessory shoe on top, yet now the popup flash fires. No ambient light shot for you! The camera figures you don’t know what you are doing since you have it set to Auto mode, so it wants to protect your images.

The point of all this is simple. Use the amazing technology of the camera when you really need it. Otherwise, don’t! You lose creative control when you use any fully automatic modes. You turn creative control over to the assumptions made by the software algorithms put into the camera by a programmer somewhere. That programmer may not even be a photographer. In fact, the programmer may even use a stinky little point-and-shoot model and not even care when there is noise in his or her pictures.

Wouldn’t you rather control the final outcome of the image? Don’t settle for Auto mode. Use it while you are learning your camera, when the images are for fun, or in a dire emergency. Otherwise, “make” the images yourself. Don’t leave it to the camera’s software!

Keep on capturing time...
Darrell Young


On Wednesday September 21, 2011 at the stroke of midnight New York Time, Nikon fulfilled their promise made months ago for an ILC (interchangeable lens camera). However, the promise was fulfilled with not one, but two new "Advanced" ILCs. The Nikon J1 and V1 cameras (new Nikon 1 series):
Nikon J1 with CX sensor and "1" Nikkor 30–110mm f/3.8-5.6 VR Lens 

Nikon V1 with CX sensor and "1" Nikkor 10–30mm f/3.5-5.6 VR Lens 

The Nikon J1 and V1 have a new 10-megapixel CMOS sensor size called CX, which measures 13.2mm x 8.8mm. This new sensor is smaller than the DX and FX sensor sizes found in Nikon's DSLR camera line, but significantly larger than the COOLPIX point-and-shoot cameras. Here is a size comparison of the various sensor sizes. (Graphic created by Nikonians.org Chief Editor Tom Boné):

  • CX: 13.2 x 8.8 mm
  • DX: 23.6 x 15.8 mm
  • FX: 36.0 x 23.9 mm


These sizes are rounded off to the nearest millimeter (mm). Clearly, the CX sensor is a small one. Let's hope Nikon has included all sorts of noise reduction capability in EXPEED 3! Shouldn't be too much of a problem with the two cameras wisely limited to 10 megapixels. Here is a look at the imaging sensor with no lens attached:

CX CMOS sensor: 13.2 x 8.8 mm in size and new Nikon 1 lens mount

The CX sensor has a factor of 2.7x the FX format. In comparison DX line has a factor of 1.5x. Therefore, the CX size imaging sensor is little bigger than half the size of a DX sensor.


Supports Nikkor F-Mount Lenses

Nikon is providing an adapter called the FT1 Mount Adapter that allows you to use your favorite F-mount Nikkor lenses on the new cameras. Evidently, the adapter allows using both newer and older F-Mount lenses on the new J1 and V1 cameras. Here is Nikon's words on the matter: "When the F-mount adapter is mounted on a camera, F-mount interchangeable NIKKOR lenses, manufactured by Nikon for more than half a century, can be used with the Nikon1 J1 and V1."

Newer Nikkor lenses, and most likely aftermarket lenses, should be supported by the camera. Nikon makes a comment about the connectivity of older AF-S Nikkor CPU lenses, as follows: "Autofocus may not perform as expected in some situations or with some lenses. Restrictions apply to mounting and functionality with some lenses."


Basic Camera Information

The list price of the cameras will be as follows:

  • US$649.95 – Nikon J1 camera with Nikon 1 10-30mm f/3.8–5.6 VR kit lens 
  • US$899.95 – Nikon V1 camera with Nikon 1 10-30mm f/3.8–5.6 VR kit lens

There will be a dual-lens kit available at additional cost. Shipping date estimated as October 2011.

The camera has a new EXPEED 3 image-processing engine for increased performance and speed.

The autofocus is based on a hybrid system using both focal plane phase detection and contrast detection AF. According to Nikon's research the cameras have the "world's fastest autofocusing" among ILC cameras, as of September 21, 2011. That's a bold statement! When the camera detects movement it uses phase-detection AF for faster focusing and subject tracking. For non-moving and low-light subjects the camera uses the slower but highly accurate contrast-detect AF.

The camera has a 10 frames per second image shooting rate when using subject tracking. Amazingly, when not using subject tracking, the camera increases its continuous high-speed frame rate to 60 frames per second. This is not describing movie mode, this is still image shooting. Clearly, the camera has an electronic shutter to achieve amazing still image frame rates of 60 fps. There are some limitations, though, in the maximum number of images shot at the same time. The V1 allows up to 30 images in the camera's buffer per image shooting burst, while the J1 is limited to 12 images per burst. Use fast memory cards with these two cameras! They'll need to flush those camera buffers to the memory card as soon as possible with such fast frame rates.

The number of AF points in the phase-detection autofocus system is even higher than in the pro and semi-pro DX and FX cameras, with 73 AF points in the ILC cameras compared to 51 AF points in the DSLRs. In the contrast-detection AF system the camera uses 135-area contrast AF.

Standard shooting speeds for the cameras are 5 fps (60 fps with electronic shutter and fixed AF).

Similar to the DSLR line, the ILCs will support all three light metering modes, as follows:

  • Matrix
  • Center-weighted
  • Spot

The camera has a built-in dust reduction system. For new ILC users the cameras offer an Auto Scene Selector mode, which automatically optimizes camera settings for the subject. This is designed for those unsure of how to adjust camera settings themselves. The cameras also have a menu system with reduced complexity.

Standard ISO sensitivity will run from 100 to 3200 ISO, with a Hi 1 setting equivalent to 6400 ISO.

The cameras have four shooting modes, as follows:

Still image
The camera takes a single image with each press of the shutter-release button.

Motion Snapshot  
With each press of the shutter-release button, the camera records a single still image and about 1 second of high-res movie footage from before and after the shutter-release button was pressed. (Huh?) This will allow action shooters to capture the peak of the action by capturing frames over a one-second interval. I know it sounds a little weird to say that the camera records frames before the shutter-release button is pressed since that would seem to require some measure of time traveling capability. However, Nikon states this in their literature, and I quote: "In Motion Snapshot mode, simply pressing the shutter-release button records a still image and about a second of high-resolution movie footage beginning before and ending after the time the shutter-release button was pressed." Actually, how it works is this: the camera starts recording frames when the shutter-release button is pressed part way down for AF operation. The camera does AF then records frames in a queue—dumping excess images from the front of the queue—until the shutter-release button is pressed. Then, it trims the series of images to a one-second interval surrounding the shutter-release event. Movies shot in this mode are played back in slow motion at 0.4x of normal playback speed. There are four recording themes connected to this shooting mode: Beauty, Waves, Relaxation, and Tenderness. Total movie/still image display can last up to 10 seconds if the shutter-release button is held down that long. When playing back movies the camera shows about 2.5 seconds of video, displays the still frame, then plays the remainder of the short movie—about 7.5 seconds maximum. Each 10-second movie/still set is recorded to the memory card as a package.

Smart Photo Selector
Similar to Motion Snapshot, the camera records frames as soon as you press the shutter-release half way down, after AF. When you press the shutter-release button, the camera examines the images currently in the camera buffer and selects five of the best images surrounding the shutter-release. It then writes these five images to the memory card. This is the equivalent of shooting a five-frame burst. If you do not agree with the camera on which are the best five shots, you can select your favorites from the candidate images and delete the rest.

Movie
The movie mode supports 1920 x 1080/60i High-Definition video. That is 1080i HD. The camera comes with special "Short Movie Creator" software allowing you to assemble creative movie segments up to 30 minutes in length. This includes the styles and background music.


Camera Colors

The J1 series of cameras come in five colors. The lenses can be purchased with colors matching the camera body. Here are the colors:

Nikon J1 series cameras in five various colors

The V1 series cameras are only available in two basic colors, as follows:

Nikon V1 series cameras in two colors


Rear Monitor

The J1 camera has a 3.0-inch TFT LCD monitor on back with about 460K-dot resolution. The V1 series has a similar 3.0-inch TFT LCD monitor, except the resolution is doubled at 921K-dots. The monitors use an air-gapless structure with a protective glass covering. They have increased visibility outdoors, allowing image and movie display in brighter light.


Internal Electronic Viewfinder for V1 Only

The J1 camera uses the rear monitor for all image and movie taking and viewing. The V1 allows you to use the rear monitor or a built in viewfinder containing a 1440K-dot EVF. The viewfinder is high definition and bright, with 100% frame coverage through the lens. It has a unique color filtering system that guards against rainbow artifacts seen on other lesser ILC/EVIL cameras when a subject is moving. This is Nikon, after all! I guess this viewfinder moves the V1 squarely into the EVIL (electronic viewfinder interchangeable lens) camera category.


RAW and JPEG Modes

The cameras support both RAW (NEF) and JPEG shooting, with Active D-Lighting when needed to protect highlight and shadow detail in the JPEG images...


Four New CX Nikon 1 Lenses

Released with the two ILC cameras are several new "1 Nikkor" lenses and a new Speedlight SB-N5. The cameras are part of a system or family, as shown in our next picture:
The Nikon 1 Series Family of ILC cameras, lenses, and Speedlight

The four new CX lenses released for the new ILC line include three compact and lightweight kit lenses and a power drive zoom lens. Nikon has added the new Nikon 1 mount in the tradition of the F Mount that goes back over 50 years. The new mount is developed specifically for the Nikon 1 series of cameras and lenses. Following is a look at the new lenses along with their names and focal lengths:

 
Following are the basic specifications on the new Nikon 1 lenses:

1 Nikkor 10mm f/2.8
  • A slim, wide-angle fixed focal length (prime) lens with a focal length of 10 mm 
  • Angle of view equivalent to 27 mm in 35mm [135] format
  • Maximum length of 22mm extending from from of camera
  • Metal mount and exterior

1 Nikkor VR 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6
  • A 3x standard zoom lens that covers the 10–30-mm range of focal lengths
  • Angle of view equivalent to 27–81mm in 35mm [135] format
  • Vibration Reduction equipped (VR)

1 Nikkor VR 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6
  • A 3.7x telephoto zoom lens that covers the 30–110mm range of focal lengths 
  • Angle of view equivalent to 81–297mm in 35mm [135] format
  • Vibration Reduction equipped (VR)

1 Nikkor VR 10-100mm f/4.5-5.6 PD-ZOOM
  • A high-power zoom lens that covers the 10–100mm range of focal lengths 
  • Angle of view equivalent to 27–270mm in 35mm [135] format)
  • 10x power drive zoom lens 
  • Auto extends with a power drive zoom switch
  • Metal mount and exterior
  • Vibration Reduction equipped (VR)

Speedlight Flash and GPS Units

The J1 has a built-in flash, while the V1 uses the new Nikon SB-N5 Speedlight flash unit. The V1 can also use the new GP-N100 GPS unit. Both the flash and GPS are shown below:

Nikon SB-N5 Speedlight flash unit and GP-N100 GPS unit

The SB-N5 Speedlight has the following specifications:

  • Guide number: 8.5/27.9 (ISO 100, m/ft), 12/39.4 (ISO 200, m/ft)
  • Bounce: 90° up, 180° left and right
  • Flash shooting distance range: 0.6m-20m (depends on the ISO setting)
  • Effective range: 0.6m to 20m/2 ft to 66 ft (varies with ISO sensitivity, bounce angle, and aperture)
  • Modes: i-TTL, manual
  • Flash modes supported: Fill flash (front-curtain sync), front-curtain with slow sync, rear-curtain sync, and rear-curtain with slow sync, flash compensation
  • Flash duration: 1/4000s when fired at full power
  • Size: approx. 50 x 70.5 x 40.5 mm (W x H x D) 
  • Weight: 70 g

The GP-N100 GPS unit has the following specifications:

  • Records Latitude, Longitude, Altitude, and Time of Day (UTC)
  • Acquisition times: Cold start : Approx. 40s, Hot start : Approx. 3s
  • Data format: NMEA (National Marine Electronics Association) 0183 version 3.1
  • Geodesics: WGS84
  • GPS accuracy: Horizontal : 10m/33 ft RMS
  • Interface: USB
  • Dimensions (W x H x D): Approx. 42.0 x 26.8 x 30.5mm/1.7 x 1.1 x 1.2 in.
  • Weight: Approx. 21g/0.7 oz
  • Supports: Assisted GPS (A-GPS or aGPS)
  • Power is supplied from the camera

Links to Information

Nikon J1 Camera

Nikon V1 Camera

1 Nikkor 10mm f/2.8 Lens

1 Nikkor VR 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 lens:

1 Nikkor VR 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 lens:

1 Nikkor VR 10-100mm f/4.5-5.6 PD-ZOOM lens:

Speedlight SB-N5

GPS Unit GP-N100

Mount adapter FT1

Video on YouTube

Overview Page on Nikon.com:


Summary

Nikon promised and delivered on a new ILC/EVIL camera system for 2011. The cameras have new technology and promise to deliver superior results. An ILC camera is a great addition to a photographer's arsenal, for those times when only a small, high-quality camera and lenses will do. The new J1 and V1 are parts of a camera system that allows you to invest in quality for the long term. With the new Nikon 1 mount, the future holds much promise for new lenses, while still allowing us to use our F-Mount Nikkors. The best of both worlds. Thank you, Nikon!

Keep on capturing time...
Darrell Young
See my Mastering The Nikon DSLR books at: 
http://www.photographywriter.com/NikonBooks.asp




New Nikon release rumors are swirling again. This time there is a website to back them up:

http://www.iamcomings.com

Here is a look at the webpage there:

Mysterious webpage at www.iamcomings.com

If the rumors are true, at about 1 p.m. New York Time on Wednesday September 21 there will be an announcement from Nikon. Will it be the new ILC/EVIL camera promised by them? Maybe a D700 replacement? Who knows! If the website above is not a fake site, tune in to this blog because you can bet that I will have an article up on whatever arrives. Get ready! 

Of course, if this is a fake website nothing will show in tomorrow at 1 p.m. except more disappointment. I did a whois lookup on the www.iamcomings.com website and it is out of Bangkok, Thailand on an Apache server having the IP address: 203.146.249.45. The domain appears to be owned by a company named: newmedia-edge.com.

This NewMediaEdge company appears to be involved with various marketing campaigns, with listed customers including: Samsung, Microsoft, Pepsi-Cola, and Unilever. Is Nikon also a customer?  Could be. The company seems legit from outward appearances. Here is information about them on their website:

"Digital Marketing Strategy - We create, implement, and execute measurable digital marketing strategies that match your marketing objectives to your target audience by demographics, statistics, psychographics, geo-locations, context and language."

Here is their address and phone information:

The New Media Edge (Thailand)
The New Media Edge Company Limited
946 Dusit Thani Building, 8th floor,
Unit 801,Rama IV Road. Bangrak, Bangkok,10500
Thailand

Telephone: +(662) 237-2737
Fax: +(662) 237 2742


Okay, NewMediaEdge (and Nikon) you have our attention. Our checkbooks are out, our Visa's are ready. Give us Nikon product!

Keep on capturing time...
Darrell Young




This is a short excerpt from my upcoming book Moving Beyond Point-and-Shoot Photography due in March 2012. The book is designed to help enthusiastic new DSLR and ILC/EVIL camera users learn how to shoot well with their new cameras. It assumes no previous knowledge of photographic terms, principles, or technology.

Back in the “good old” film days we didn’t have a histogram, so we had to depend on our experience and light meter to get a good exposure. Since we could not see the exposure until after we had left the scene and developed the film, we measured our success by the number of correctly exposed images we were able to create. With the exposure meter/histogram combination found in your camera the good exposure success rate you can experience is much higher than ever before.

Is the Histogram Really That Important?

The histogram can be as important, or even more so, than the exposure meter. The exposure meter sets the camera up for the exposure, and the histogram visually verifies that the exposure is a good one. Together they will give you the most accurate exposures you have ever made, if you use them both.

If your exposure meter stopped working, you could still get excellent exposures using only the histogram. In fact, I gauge my efforts more by how the histogram looks than anything else. The exposure meter and histogram work together to make sure you get excellent results from your photographic efforts.

Figure 1.1 – Two histogram types (Luminance and RGB)

Figure 1.1 shows two histogram types from my Nikon D7000. The first screen in figure 1.1 shows a series of histograms to the right of the small picture of my grandson and me. On top is a white-colored luminance (brightness) histogram, followed by individual red, green, and blue channel histograms (RGB = red, green, blue). On the second screen, the luminance histogram appears to the right of the small picture of my cars in the snow.

I have no way of knowing whether your camera offers only a single luminance histogram, like the one in figure 1.1’s second image, or whether it gives you a RGB histograms too, as in figure 1.1’s first image. What is the difference between the luminance and RGB histograms? Let’s examine both histogram types and see.

RGB Histograms

The RGB histograms show all three color channels that a camera uses—on an individual basis. Remember, the camera combines the red, green, and blue colors from its color channels to make the final color in the picture. The red, green, and blue colors are blended together to provide color in up to trillions of shades, well representing the colors your eyes see in your subjects. Therefore, the RGB histograms are simply representations of how well your camera exposed each basic color that it later combined into the final image.

Luminance Histogram

How does the luminance histogram differ from the RGB histograms. The luminance histogram is a representation of the perceived brightness (luminosity) from the combination of the red, green, and blue channels shown in the individual RGB histograms. In other words, the luminance histogram tries to accurately reflect the light you actually see by weighting its color values in a particular way. Since the human eye sees green most easily, the luminance histogram is heavily weighted toward green. Notice in figure 1.1’s first image how the luminance histogram on top looks very similar to the green channel histogram below it. Red and blue are represented in the luminance histogram too, only in lesser quantities (59 percent green, 30 percent red, and 11 percent blue = luminance). The luminance histogram measures the perceived brightness in 256 levels (0–255).

In my opinion, the luminance histogram is a more accurate way of looking at the color levels in real images. Since it more accurately reflects the way our eyes actually see color brightness, it may be the best histogram for you to use. Now, let’s discuss the use of a histogram in detail.

Understanding the Histogram 

Finding and using your camera’s histogram(s) will guarantee you a much higher percentage of well-exposed images. It is well worth spending time to understand the histogram. I’ll try to cover this feature with enough detail to give you a working knowledge of how to use the histogram to make better pictures. If you are deeply interested in the histogram, there is a lot of research material available on the Internet. Although this overview is brief, it will present enough knowledge to improve your technique immediately.

I am going to concentrate on the luminance histogram. It is the best histogram for most photographers to use since it accurately reflects the way we see light. I am not going to keep on repeating luminance histogram over and over. From this point forward, when you see the word histogram, realize that I am talking about the luminance histogram.

What is The Basis for a Histogram?

When you take a picture, whether in JPEG, TIFF or RAW mode, the camera presents the luminance histogram based on its approximation of a JPEG image. In other words, the histogram is what the camera or computer would show for an 8-bit JPEG image (256 color levels per RGB channel).

When you take a JPEG (.jpg) picture the camera crams all the light values of the RGB channels into 256 levels. The same thing happens when you take a picture in 8-bit TIFF (.tif) mode. All the light values are reduced to 256 levels. When you shoot a RAW image, there are significantly more than 256 color values available.

However, the camera still shows you a JPEG histogram when you are viewing a RAW (.nef) image on the camera’s monitor. In reality, most 12- or 14-bit RAW images can hold from 4096 to 16384 color levels per channel. However, all that color is represented by a 256-color-level-per-channel histogram.

In a way, this is a safety factor for RAW shooters. A RAW image has additional capacity to record light values within the brightest parts of the image (highlight headroom). The camera does not show you the histogram based on the total capacity of the RAW image. It uses a JPEG image as the basis for the histogram. For 8-bit JPEG and TIFF shooters, the histogram gives you exactly what you see and nothing more.

Therefore, if you shoot mostly in JPEG or TIFF, be careful that the histogram is exactly right or you may have badly exposed images. For RAW shooters, the histogram under-represents the actual highlight headroom you have available in the image; however, if you shoot for an accurate histogram anyway, you will have less noisy images, even in RAW, because the limited exposure range of the JPEG-based histogram fits well within the headroom of a RAW image. A RAW shooter just has more room to correct errors in exposure since greater range is available in the image than the histogram shows. As a RAW shooter, I always check the histogram for my best images.

The main point I want to make in this article is use your camera's histogram. Your pictures will be better for it!

Keep on capturing time...
Darrell Young
See my Nikon books at:
http://www.photographywriter.com/NikonBooks.asp




One of the reasons I am so excited by nature photography is the fact that I live only a few miles from the best of the Appalachian Mountains. I am quite excited right now because next month, October, is the month for spectacular color in "my" mountains. Each year I make a pilgrimage to three areas in particular: Great Smoky Mountains, Blue Ridge Parkway, and Cherohala Skyway. Let me tell you about my favorite spots in each place.

Great Smoky Mountains

I've been going to the Smokies for over 40 years and haven't tired of it yet. When I find myself walking around in Cades Cove, I often close my eyes and just listen to the sounds. I sense the history of the ancient mountains surrounding me and feel like I'm a time traveler. I imagine myself standing here 1000 years ago when the Cherokee Indian nation lived a peaceful life here in the cove between the ridges. It isn't hard to imagine a Cherokee hunter standing where I am standing. He is looking for game to take back to his family and walks quietly with his bow at the ready, stalking a white-tailed deer. He gets the shot.

I find myself doing the same, stalking a white-tailed deer and getting the shot—with my Nikon and AF Nikkor 80-400mm VR. The deer are quite tame in the Smokies since they are rarely hunted and are used to seeing people.

Female White-tailed Deer in early spring (still in winter coat) at Cades Cove, Smoky Mountains, Tennessee, USA

The Cades Cove area of the Smoky Mountains teems with wildlife. It is not uncommon to see deer, bears, raccoons, skunks, squirrels, salamanders, newts, birds, and fish, all in just one day. When you come to the Smokies, bring large memory cards and extra batteries, you'll need them.

Just down the road from Cades Cove is an out-of-the-way place that few know about. It is called Tremont. The middle prong of the Little Pigeon River flows through this area. It is a nature photographer's delight, with world class views of an often roaring mountain-fed river having many cascades and waterfalls.

Little Pigeon River at Tremont in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee, USA

To take a flowing stream shot like this one, you'll need to use the following equipment and guidelines:
  • Set Shooting Menu > Long exp. NR (long exposure noise reduction) to On.
  • Turn off VR (vibration reduction) on your lens.
  • Shoot on an fully overcast day only! 
  • Use a tripod.
  • Use a circular polarizer.
  • Use a wide to short telephoto zoom like the AF-S Nikkor 16-85mm, 18-105mm, or even the 18-55mm. 
  • Set your camera up on the tripod and frame your shot with the zoom lens.
  • Use the polarizer to remove most of the reflections from the water, darkening it. 
  • Set the camera's aperture to f/22 giving you maximum depth of field.
  • Focus 1/3 of the way into the scene and use a remote release cable to fire the shutter. If you do not have a release cable, use the Custom Setting Menu > d Shooting/display > Exposure delay mode. This will result first in a one second delay to let vibrations die down; then the camera will fire a long exposure of from 4 to 10 seconds, blurring the water in a wonderful way. 
The overcast day removes a great deal of the contrast from the scene, which is good because a digital camera cannot record the huge contrast between streamers of sunlight and the darkness in the woods. I have shot hundreds of these wonderful stream images and really enjoy looking at them.

Plus, they sell well as fine art images. Here's a great book I have read, telling how to sell your images as fine art:Marketing Fine Art Photography by Alain Briot (published by Rocky Nook). I highly recommend Alain's book if you are interested in selling your images as fine art. It will teach you all the tricks!

There is an area just outside Great Smoky Mountains National Park called Foothills Parkway. It has many overlooks that view the mountains of the park. You can get nice "smoky" pictures early in the morning before the sun burns off the mist. At sunset you can get some really nice shots. During the day you will simply be amazed. Here are three shots from Foothills Parkway West:

Sunrise on Foothills Parkway West, Smoky Mountains, Tennessee, USA

Autumn Morning on Foothills Parkway West, Smoky Mountains, Tennessee, USA

Sunset on Foothills Parkway West, Smoky Mountains, Tennessee, USA

I took the pictures above with my Nikon on a tripod, using smaller apertures in the f/8 to f/11 range, Matrix metering, and Aperture priority auto mode (A). All you have to do in the Smokies is be there and be willing to shoot! Nature will put on a show for you. Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the autumn of the year is one of the most beautiful places on earth. F/8 and be there!

Here is an excellent photographer's guide to the Smokies, called Photographing the Great Smoky Mountains by Jim Hargan. Jim tells about the best places and picture angles for enthusiastic photographers.

Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a 469 mile National Park stretching from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Cherokee, North Carolina, USA. Except where the parkway runs through local cities, such as Asheville, North Carolina, the entire parkway is wilderness territory. Bring plenty of food and make sure your car is full of gas, there are no gas stations, although there are exits from the parkway into smaller towns where gasoline and lodging is available.

Along the parkway you will experience protected mountain views with nothing visible except for amazing mountains scenes. The Department of the Interior will not allow any man made construction to be seen from the overlooks for 25 miles away from the mountain. You will experience a true wilderness environment on an easy to drive paved roadway. Plan on taking two or three days to drive the parkway. More if you stop as often as most photographers to get simply breathtaking views from thousands of feet up. Here is a shots from Waterrock Knob at 6292 feet (1917 meters). Following that are a couple of different Blue Ridge Parkway views.

Waterrock Knob, Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina, USA

Automobile Driving Along Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina, USA

Devil's Courthouse Butte (5760 feet, 1755 meters) on Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina, USA

All of these pictures were taken with a Nikon DSLR (either a D2X, D300, or D300S). In years past, I often used older manual focus AI Nikkors for scenics like this, especially the 35mm f/2. Plus, I always used a tripod and remote release cable for this type of shot. The last couple of years I've been using a Sigma 18-50mm f/2.8 EX DC Macro lens. It is amazingly sharp and has become my favorite landscape lens. Less hassle since I can frame better. All of my landscape shots are made with a Hoya circular polarizer to remove reflections from the colorful leaves, deepening the natural color saturation. When you shoot landscapes, please use a polarizer and dial out reflections. You will make images that lesser photographers only wish they could make.

Jim Hargan also has a book on the Blue Ridge Parkway called The Photographer's Guide to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Books like Jim's make it a lot easier to find enjoyable spots and learn how to best shoot them.

Cherohala Skyway

In comparison to the Great Smokies, the Cherohala Skyway is not a well known place, so there are less people around. This only adds to the opportunities for superior photography.

Back in 1958 at a Kiwanas Club meeting in Tellico Plains, a joke was made that the only roads into North Carolina from Tennessee were the original roads made by settlers taking wagon trains west in the 1800's. An idea was proposed to bring attention to this fact by having a wagon train from Tellico Plains to Robbinsville, North Carolina. This was done and developed into a tradition. Once a year, from that time forward, the wagon train would make its trip. This caught the interest of local and national political leaders. Over forty years later, a 52 mile two-lane blacktop highway was created at the cost of over $100 Million Dollars. On October 12, 1996, the Cherohala Skyway was officially opened.

In April 1997 North Carolina recognized the Skyway by declaring it a "Scenic Byway." Later it became recognized as a "National Scenic Byway." The name Cherohala comes from the combination of two national forest names. The Cherokee and Nantahala National Forest names were combined to form the word Cherohala.

Bald River Falls in Tellico Plains, Tennessee, USA, near the start of Cherohala Skyway.

Cherohala Skyway begins in Tellico Plains of Monroe County Tennessee and ends 50+ miles later in Robbins North Carolina.  That fifty mile drive across the National Scenic Byway is one of personal enjoyment and beauty.

In my experience, it takes about three or four hours to make the drive.  I'll stop at the overlooks and sit for a few minutes—enjoying the deep mountain view.  The wind is invariably blowing and provides a respite from summer heat. My favorite time to travel the Cherohala Skyway is in Autumn since the colors are often spectacular.

Cherohala Skyway View in Tennessee, USA

When shooting on the Cherohala Skyway, plan to have a tripod with you since it can be a bit windy. It might be good to bring some hooks so that you can hang your camera bag from the bottom of your tripod for extra stability. Learn how to use High Dynamic Range (HDR) techniques in order to capture the sometimes high contrast you'll find. Shady roads and bright skies can be hard to capture without using advanced techniques like HDR or by using a graduated neutral density filter. (More about HDR later.)

Cherohala Skyway in Peak Autumn Color, Tennessee, USA

It's always much more fun to have a companion or two with you on the Skyway. I often take photographer buddies with me. We'll set up our tripods and see who can take the best pictures. Later it's a lot of fun to compare the images and see who got that coveted masterpiece for their blog, album, or wall. The Cherohala Skyway is like a short version of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Instead of the hundreds of miles on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the 50 miles of the Cherohala Skyway is about a half-day's trip; when time is allowed for stopping at the most impressive overlooks. If you are on the parkway with a bunch of fanatical Nikonians—like I often am—you might even wring a full day out of it.

When you are traveling the Skyway, you can pull off on the wide shoulders of the road and at overlooks for some really spectacular images.  Bring large memory cards for your camera and prepare to come home with some of the most beautiful images you've ever taken.  Also bring lots of food and gasoline, you'll not want to leave soon.

Cherohala Skyway Overlook in Peak Autumn Color, Tennessee, USA


The only "problem" I can detect on the Skyway is that it ends in the middle of nowhere in North Carolina.  To get back to civilization one has to either reverse course back down the Skyway, or travel toward Maryville Tennessee on a road called the Dragon's Tail. This road is highway 129 from Robbins NC to Maryville TN. The Dragon has an enormous number of deep curves that allow a biker to lay their cycle over on its side in a sweeping turn. For this reason the Skyway is frequented by sometimes hundreds of motorcyclists and sports car drivers as they travel toward the twisty Dragon road at the end of the Skyway.  Plan on allowing a couple of hours travel time into Maryville due to the heavy cycle, sport traffic, and endless curves of the Dragon.

Cherohala Skyway Bikers, North Carolina, USA

When you're driving along the Dragon's Tail, there are now many pulloffs that allow you to get out of the way of the enthusiastic bikers as they lean into the curves with gusto. Please do let the bikes and sports cars get by since many of them have traveled a long distance to get to the famous road and want to enjoy themselves. There have been many many accidents due to the disparity between the speed of the bikes and cars. Also, be prepared to have your picture taken as you drive along the Dragon. There are a number of websites that station photographers along the Dragon and take your picture as you drive by.  They even photograph the family van on the move. You can then go to one of the websites and buy your photo as you drive along avoiding bikers.

A Little More on HDR While on the Cherohala Skyway

As I mentioned earlier, I am beginning to prefer shooting HDR in the contrasty mountains. It's especially easy to use HDR since I bought the low-cost Photomatix Pro software for my computer.  It makes the combination of HDR images much easier to accomplish. An alternative is Nik software's HDR Efex Pro. Here is a great new book on HDR technique by Jack Howard: Practical HDRI, 2nd Edition (published by Rocky Nook).

Following is a sample HDR picture with three separate images combined, each having a 2-stop difference in exposure. I was able to capture the darker water, and the bright sunlit foliage and sky all in one image with HDR. Using HDR doesn't mean your image has to look garish and strange. It can simply be used to capture dynamic range in your images that would be very difficult if not impossible otherwise, as my image proves. Get Jack's HDR book and learn how!




There is one final book I'd like to recommend for those who want to travel through these lovely mountains. It is named, Backroads of North Carolina: Your Guide to Great Day Trips & Weekend Getaways, by Kevin Adams. It will help you find, visit, and photograph the Blue Ridge Parkway and Cherohala Skyway.

Alternatively, do a Google search on Smoky Mountains, Blue Ridge Parkway, or Cherohala Skyway and you'll find a plethora of free maps and guides to the areas. If you see a white Jeep Wrangler parked alongside the road, and a few guys with Nikons and tripods, stop and say hello. I'm sure it'll be me and my Nikonian buddies. Thanks for taking a trip with me. See you in the mountains!

Keep on capturing time...
Darrell Young
See my Nikon books at:
http://www.photographywriter.com/NikonBooks.asp




What does all this talk about bit depth and RGB channels mean? What is an RGB channel? What is bit depth? Why would I set my Nikon to use 14-bit bit depth instead of 12-bit bit depth? Here is a short tutorial on bit depth and how it affects RGB color storage in an image.

Your camera records image color with three color channels—one each of red, green, and blue (RGB). You may have seen RGB mentioned in photography literature. Now you know what it stands for. The colors from each channel are combined together to make the color for your image. Bit depth is the potential number of colors contained in each RGB channel for a RAW image file, multiplied together.

Figure 1 – Luminance and RGB channel histograms for a JPEG file

In figure 1 you can see the individual channel histograms for the red, green, and blue channels in the bottom three colored histograms. The white histogram on top reflects the luminance or perceived brightness distribution in the image and is a weighted combination of the three RGB channels. The three lower colored histograms show the exposure level for each RGB channel of an 8-bit JPEG file.

Several current cameras give you the choice of shooting RAW in 12- or 14-bit mode. If you are shooting in 12-bit mode, your camera will record up to 4,096 colors for each RGB channel; therefore, there will be up to 4,096 different reds (R), 4,096 different greens (G), and 4,096 different blues (B). Plenty of color! In fact, almost 69 billion colors (4096 x 4096 x 4096).

If you set your camera to 14-bit mode, the camera can store 16,384 different colors in each RGB channel. Wow! That’s quite a lot more color—almost 4.4 trillion shades (16384 x 16384 x 16384).

Figure 2 shows how to choose 14-bit bit depth when shooting in RAW mode:

Figure 2 – Selecting 12- or 14-bit RAW color depth

Is that important? Well, it can be, since the more color information you have, the better the color in the image—if it has a lot of color. I always use the 14-bit mode. That allows for smoother color changes when a large range of color is in the image. I like that!

Of course, if you save your image as an 8-bit JPEG or TIFF, most of those colors are compressed, or thrown away. Shooting a JPEG image in-camera (as opposed to a RAW image) means that the camera compresses the available image data so it will fit into an 8-bit file. An 8-bit JPEG image file can hold 256 different colors per RGB channel—more than 16 million colors. 16 million colors sounds like a lot of color potential and it is; however, compared to 69 billion colors (12-bits RAW) and 4.4 trillion shades (14-bit RAW) a mere 16 million shades (8-bit JPEG) is positively scrawny (256 x 256 x 256).

There’s a big difference between the number of colors a camera captures in a RAW file and the number stored in a JPEG image file. That’s why I always shoot in RAW; later I can make full use of all those potential extra colors to create a different look for the same image.

If you shoot in RAW and later save your image as a 16-bit TIFF file in your computer, you can store all the colors you originally captured. A 16-bit file can contain 65,536 different colors in each of the RGB channels. Many people save their files as 16-bit TIFFs when post-processing RAW files, especially if they are worried about the long-term viability of their camera’s proprietary RAW format.TIFF provides a known and safe industry-standard format that will fully contain all image color information from a RAW file. Unfortunately, the files are huge when saved in TIFF format. Many are looking into the Adobe DNG format as an alternate RAW format, hoping it will remain viable for the long term.

Nikon's intention is to support its NEF (RAW) format for the long term. Will that be the same for other camera companies. I hope so. If your camera manufacturer stands behind its proprietary RAW format and keeps on supporting it, you’ll be fine. If not, many after market software vendors should step up and support the older RAW formats. RAW seems stable. I can still open the RAW files from my 2002 Nikon D100 in Nikon View NX2 (vs.2.1.2).

Speed Issues: RAW Mode 12-Bit versus 14-Bit Shooting

If your camera offers both 12- and 14-bit RAW shooting modes, check to see if there are any speed penalties for shooting in the higher 14-bit mode. Since there is a lot more color information available in 14-bit mode, your images can have finer gradations of color.

However, some cameras can slow down when used in 14-bit mode because it has to process a lot more color information. Test your camera in both modes before shooting a high-speed event like an air show or car race. Otherwise, the camera may slow down enough to cause you to miss some shots. To me, the speed loss is not important because I am a nature shooter and want the greater image quality 14-bit mode potentially provides. However, some are very sensitive to camera speed and will need to pay attention to this issue.

The Nikon D300S has some penalties for 14-bit bit depth, its frame rate drops from 6 to 2.5 frames per second when shooting in continuous-high release mode (CH). The newer Nikon D7000 does not have the same slowdown so you can safely use 14-bit bit depth all the time.

Keep on capturing time...
Darrell Young
See my Nikon books here:
http://www.photographywriter.com/NikonBooks.asp



Barring surprise announcements from Nikon, it seems that 2011 will bring no more new DSLRs. I hope I'm wrong. However, the earthquake took its toll on production of the semi-pro and pro lines for various reasons. Otherwise, why wouldn't Nikon have released at least a Nikon D700 replacement?

In any case, today I want to talk briefly about the Nikon D300 and D300S cameras. Many people are still buying the D300S camera new today and will throughout the upcoming holiday season. Preowned D300 bodies trade constantly on places like eBay and Amazon.com.

Nikon D300S with AF-S Nikkor 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6G VR Lens

The D300/D300S is a great camera, not too big, not too small, and built like a tank. I once dropped a D300S from shoulder height down a flight of stairs while shooting a graduation ceremony. It bounced down three wooden stairs and landed on a tile floor (the entire audience gasped). It had an SB-900 Speedlight attached and an AF-S 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6G VR lens. I literally picked it up and continued shooting. I'm not recommending that you throw your camera down stairs but I am happy to know that it can take serious accidental abuse and keep on working.  I'm still using that same camera/flash/lens today. It has never developed any problems. I had to send the 16-85mm lens off to Nikon to fix because it developed a focus problem after the fall. The flash suffered no ill effects. The camera keeps on ticking. In fact, it only has a rub spot on the memory card door as proof of the accident. Tough build, if you ask me!

I have shot nearly 15,000 images with my D300S since I bought it in late 2009, and before that around 13,000 shots with a D300. I have no intentions of getting rid of my current D300S. It is a powerful camera and a bit like a good friend. We've been through many events together and hopefully many more to come. 12 megapixels are plenty for 99% of what I shoot.

The image quality from the D300S is simply great. Even at higher ISOs it does very well.  Here is a shot of a river jumper I took at 800 ISO. Tell me where the noise is. Not much to be seen. I couldn't have done this with my D2X without greater noise. Even at 1600 ISO the D300S performs very well, with low noise.

Jumping in the water, at 800 ISO
At low ISO (100–400) the camera performs like there's no tomorrow. I've carried this camera all over the Blue Ridge Parkway, Cherohala Skyway, Hunting Island, and Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, North and South Carolina, USA. Look at some of these shots:

Tremont in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee, USA
Sunrise on Hunting Island, South Carolina, USA
Campfire on Hunting Island, South Carolina, USA

I've used this camera to capture the events in my life for the last couple of years, and will for years longer. It just fits well in my hand. I remember when 12 megapixels was only a dream. Honestly, that is plenty of pixels for the majority of us. Only people shooting for large wall-mounted portraits or that need serious cropping capability might need more. For 95% of us 12 megapixels is just the right amount.

The camera does well as a portrait shooter too. Look at a couple of portraits from my D300S and an AF-S 50mm f/1.4G lens:

Little Sweetums Baby Girl with two teefees
Young lady with a lei

Why am I talking about the Nikon D300S today?  Well, in our excitement to buy new camera toys, we sometimes overlook proven technology that can provide exactly what we really need—if we don't listen to the constant background drone of "buy the latest thing, and buy it now!"  A New D300S has a great price, excellent features, a good video mode, and accepts all your Nikkors. Just look at this cool camera for a couple of pictures:

D300S back, showing its 3 inch LCD monitor with VGA resolution

The ultimate in coolness, a Nikon D300S with an AF-S Nikkor 16-85mm VR lens

I'm not telling you to never buy another new Nikon. I'm sure I'll fall into the slobbering masses when the D400, D800, and D4 is released. I, too, suffer from NAS (Nikon Acquisition Syndrome). However, the autumn approaches in the northern hemisphere. The colors are about to present themselves in nature. The temperatures are cooler and bearable. It's time to go take a bunch of pictures so we will have something to process over the cold winter months ahead.

Get your D300S and go shoot. The future will take care of itself. Right now, the D300S is the Nikon DX flagship camera. Celebrate its time. Go capture some memories!

Keep on capturing time...
Darrell Young
See my Mastering the Nikon D300/D300S book (and other Nikon books) here:
http://www.photographywriter.com/NikonBooks.asp



I am doing something new to see if you like it. Along with my normal, usually daily, photography articles, I am now thinking of doing a news article once per week. This is the first. I will investigate news from the photo world, especially where it relates to Nikon. If you like this feature please let me know at the contact link of:  www.PhotographyWriter.com


Want A Red Nikon D3100?

Nikon® will release a limited-edition red Nikon D3100 camera later this month in Europe only. The camera is exactly like any other D3100 except for the external crimson color. This is a test by Nikon to see how much demand the camera generates. If popular, it may cause Nikon to bring colorful cameras to the USA too.

Nikon D3100 in Red

If you've just gotta have one, check with distributors in Europe and see if you can have it shipped to you. It'll cost you more, but you'll have a really cool Nikon to show off with. The 14-MP entry-level Nikon does a great job with imaging. Plus, with the new red color it looks even cooler!


Fujifilm is Killing Several Films

Digital has taken its toll on the film-using world (again) as Fuji announces that they will discontinue six of their films. Here is a list of the discontinued items:

  • Fujichrome Sensia III 100
  • Fujichrome T64 (35mm, 36 exposures)
  • Fujicolor Pro 160NC (4x5 versions)
  • Fujifilm Neopan SS (35mm, 36 exposures)
  • Astia 100F (120, 220, 4x5 regular and quickload, and 8x10)
  • Velvia 100F (4x5 quickload; not Velvia 100, which they will still produce)
Fujichrome Sensia 100 – a now discontinued film

If you find one of your favorite films in the list, now is the time to stock up on a good quantity. It is sad  to see film gradually dying but it seems inevitable as the digital revolution marches on.

Comments on Media Reports about Nikon’s imaging product - September 9, 2011

In odd news, Nikon made a rather weird announcement on its news media site:
"Nikon understands that some article appeared in the media regarding Nikon’s imaging product. Please note that Nikon has made no announcement in this regards."
No one seems to know for sure what this means. Do you have a clue? You can see the original news announcement here:
If you figure it out, let me know!

Toshiba® Announces the FlashAir Two-Way Wi-Fi Card in SD Format

The Eye-Fi® company now has a competitor in Toshiba's FlashAir card. Going head to head with Eye-Fi in the SD card wireless transfer field, Toshiba goes one better over the Eye-Fi card. Eye-Fi allows sending image files to a local Wi-Fi enabled computer (Ad Hoc) or through the internet to a remote Wi-Fi enabled computer. The new FlashAir card from Toshiba allows both sending and receiving images. That's right, with a compatible camera you can exchange images directly with a friend, called P2P sharing.

The new FlashAir Wi-Fi Card from Toshiba

The FlashAir card will come in 8 GB initially and will be launched in February 2012. There will be more details on the card over the next few months, however, Toshiba has indicated that the card will support 802.N transfer speeds; WEP, TKIP, AES image encryption; and RAW, JPEG, and Movie files.
It will be a Class 6 card, which supports a minimum of 6MB/sec transfer speed in-camera and computer. In its press release Toshiba claims the FlashAir is “the world’s first SDHC memory card with embedded wireless LAN functionality that is fully compliant with the SD Memory Card Standard,” something the people at Eye-Fi will take issue with, I'm sure.

Nikon's Mirrorless Camera May Cost Under US$1,300 
Japan's Nikkei reported that the rumored (X-810??) camera from Nikon will cost between US$900 and US$1300. 

Rumored Nikon X-810 Mirrorless ILC/EVIL Camera

If the pricing is correct, this is in the same price range as other high-end mirrorless ILC/EVIL cameras—like the Sony NEX or Olympus E lines. The USA price could be lower because Japanese pricing, as reported in Nikkei, usually includes tax. Nikon promised to release a mirrorless camera in 2011. However, that was before the massive earthquake earlier this year. With the rapid rise in ILC/EVIL cameras, Nikon can't afford to wait much longer on a release. Maybe we'll see at least another announcement before year's end, if not the camera itself.
Keep on capturing time...
Darrell Young
Check out my photography books at: 

Photography is an expensive hobby. Many photographers have made it more than a hobby by finding ways to make some money with their pictures. As a semi-professional, you keep your day job and make enough extra money on weekends to finance new camera and lens purchases, or you can go all out and become a professional, making a living with your camera.

There are three basic ways to make money with your camera, as follows:

1. Assignment photography – taking pictures for other people, e.g., weddings, events, and portraits
2. License images through stock agencies
3. Sell fine art prints personally and through commercial websites

Let's examine these three ways to make money with your camera, just in case you are interested in making your photography pay for itself.

Assignment Photography – Taking Pictures for Other People

The most basic way to make some extra money is to offer your photography services to others. People keep needing portraits, getting engaged and married, graduating from school, and having babies. Any special event in a person's life needs good pictures. Often people do not feel qualified to take good pictures and will seek someone known to have a good camera; someone like you. Just posting excellent images on Facebook is often enough to stimulate family and friends to ask you to shoot some pictures for them. Whether you can charge them money or not is the difficult proposition.

Shooting Weddings and Events

Once you've shot a few events for family and friends—and have gained some experience—you can create a cheap website, some business cards, and you are in business. Learning how to charge money for your services is one of the more difficult propositions of event photography. There are lots of good books out there to help you learn how to create contracts and charge for your services.

A good photographer can make anywhere from $500 to several thousand dollars on a wedding shoot, for instance. The problem with new shooters is to realize that a photographer's services have real value and to charge accordingly. Before you decide to set up shop as a part-time event photographer, why not talk on the forums to people who already are in the business. Read some books and get good advice. You can make money with event shooting. Choose your favorite type of event and pursue it.

Here are some books on event photography:



License Images Through Stock Agencies

Stock imagery is used for advertising and editorial purposes. Books, magazines, websites, companies, and individuals all need images to illustrate various concepts and ideas. A gigantic number of images are used each day to tell a story or help sell a product. You can provide some of those images and help pay for your camera and lens purchases.

Selling vs. Licensing

In most cases when you submit images to a stock agency, the agency will not actually sell the image to a buyer. Instead, the image is licensed for a specific usage and for a specified time frame, over and over, often with multiple places using the same image at the same time. The image can have a lifespan of several years and keep bringing in money to the agency and submitter during that time. The agency usually sets price, according to what the market will bear.

Commercial vs. Editorial Images

To get started shooting images you must be aware of the differences between commerical and editorial imagery.

Commercial images are used for advertising purposes and to help sell various products. Images of that  style cannot display logos of any type and must have releases for commercial uses. If a person is in the picture, even if only a part of them, like a hand or from the back, a model release is required. If a recognizable piece of property is photographed for commercial licensing, a property release may be required. To be a successful commercial photographer, you must learn to use various types of releases.



Images shot for stock should tell a story
Editorial images are used in an educational way, to inform, not to sell a product. They can be used without releases even if a recognizable person is in the image, or even a logo on a product. The train image above could be used as either a commercial or editorial image since all logos have been removed. As a commercial image it could be used to advertise shipping services, for instance. As an editorial image it could be used in an educational book or magazine article on the railroad system.


Microstock vs. Traditional Stock Agencies

For many years traditional stock photographers have ruled the game. Traditional or macrostock photography commands high prices based on the rarity of the image. The harder it is to take the image the more it could be worth, if of a popular subject. A traditional agency licenses images at higher prices and one sale can bring in hundreds of dollars of commissions for the photographer. It is much harder to get accepted by most "trads" (traditional agencies) as they are called by submitters. One must usually have a large library of images and agree to license them exclusively through that one agency. This is changing, to a degree, due to the influence on the market by much lower cost microstock agencies. Nowadays, there are traditional agencies that do not require exclusivity and will accept photographers without a large number of stock images.

The newcomer to the stock world (since about 2004) are the microstock agencies. There are dozens of them licensing images to individuals, small companies, and even larger corporations. Instead of making a larger amount of money from a few sales, microstocks concentrate on selling a lot of images for a small amount. Volume sales makes up the difference in sales amount and commission to the submitter.

In today's market, with so much competition and so many submitters it is hard to "make a living" from stock photography.  However, it is possible to make enough money each year to buy an extra lens or two, or a new camera body. One can make a living at stock, but it requires a lot of shooting, keywording, and submitting of images to different agencies. It should be viewed as a production environment, with regular image submissions required.

Royalty Free vs. Rights Managed

When selling stock you must know the differences between royalty free and rights managed image licenses.

Royalty free is a type of license that basically allows a licensee (buyer) to use the image in an unlimited way for an unlimited time period. Once the buyer pays the license fee for the image they can do almost anything they want with it except sell it as their own work. The submitter (you) gets royalties for the initial license transaction. A sale can make you anything from a few cents to a few dollars. Microstock agencies invariably sell royalty free images. Traditional agencies sell it too, usually for somewhat higher prices.

Rights managed is a type of image licensing that controls what the image can be used for, how many times, and for what time period. This type of image licensing is mostly used for advertising, where a company wants to control an image to some degree, so that it can become representative of or promote their company brand in some way. Full image exclusivity can be offered to a company so that no one else can use the image while they are using it, for a higher price. This form of licensing can be more profitable for the submitter. However, due to the influence of the microstocks, images licensing fees are falling across the board.

Selling stock used to be an extremely profitable type of photography. However, since digital photography became mainstream, allowing common photographers to create excellent images and submit them online, the profit level has dropped significantly. The enormous demand for images is not dropping; therefore, stock photography can still be a profitable endeavor to committed image submitters.

Find stock agencies that will accept your images by talking on forums, doing Google searches on "traditional stock agencies" or "microstock agencies" and you'll find many places that will accept your image submissions, allowing you to gradually build a portfolio of marketable images.

Here are some books on selling stock photography:



Selling Fine Art Prints

Whether a person works with a local gallery, sells their images online through one of several fine art websites, or simply sells beautiful images through their own website—fine art photography can be profitable. It requires a higher level of creative photography than many people are interested in shooting. However, there is a good demand for fine art photography for home decor, office decor, and by collectors.

Fine Art is any type of image people would want to collect
If you shoot images that people constantly tell you are beautiful, you may be a fine art photographer and not even know it!

You can find a fine art establishment to market your work by doing a Google search on "fine art websites." There are several good websites that will allow you to submit images, set your own prices, print sizes, and frame styles. They will then market your work to many people—selling your prints from their own image printing, framing, and delivery systems—and send you a monthly check.

Books to help you learn how to market your fine art photography:



Self Marketing Your Images

In addition to the three ways mentioned above, there are all sorts of ways to sell/market images. You can choose a type of photography you are comfortable with and "go commercial" with it. What type of photography do you normally shoot? Is there a market for it? Get the book called Photographer's Market and find out!

If a company wants to charge you money to market your images, please refuse to do business with them. They are probably making money from photographer's dreams and usually do a poor job of marketing your images to others.Your images have value; never give them away for empty promises or credit lines. Charge real money!

General books for marketing your photography in various ways:


You have a fine DSLR camera, excellent lenses, and the know how for taking good pictures. Why not use that equipment and skills to make some money and buy even better stuff, or pay a few bills.

Keep on capturing time...
Darrell Young



If you've been a photographer for more than 10 years, somewhere in a closet is a large quantity of negatives and transparencies (slides). I'm the same! Yesterday being Labor Day in the USA and a national holiday, I decided to take a day off. What to do with myself?  I know, I'll scan some slides!

The Nikon Super COOLSCAN 9000 ED Film Scanner – Nikon's Flagship Scanner

It had been a year or two since I had scanned anything so I had to get my scanning hardware ready. I have a Nikon Super COOLSCAN 9000 ED film scanner, which is Nikon's flagship dedicated film scanner from a few years ago. Since I hadn't scanned in some time the scanner wasn't connected to any computer. It's firewire card was lying on the scanner with the firewire cable looped on top of it. "Ok, let's get this baby hooked up," I thought.

Last year I upgraded to Windows 7 on my PC so I did a little research to see if the COOLSCAN is compatible with Windows 7. Checking Microsoft's software compatibility site I determined that Nikon Scan was not compatible with Windows 7. Checking on Nikon's website I found no updated software, nor any plans to provide anything for my scanner. "Hmmm, I want to scan some slides, but what do I do now? I don't have any Windows XP computers lying around, or do I?" One of my daughter's was married in January of 2011 and I remembered her old computer was sitting in a corner unused—I gave her a nice Dell notebook computer as a wedding present. The old computer had Windows XP on it, so I pulled the cover, installed the firewire card, and fired up the computer. Downloading the last supported version of Nikon Scan from the Nikon website, I installed it and was finally ready.

I found some boxes of 35mm slides and reveled in their sharp colorful look. Tiny little squares of the past. I was ready to scan them and I did. Two hours later and maybe 15 slides scanned, I was tiring of the process. My goodness, even doing a fairly low-res scan for small print size (4x6 inches)  was taking forever!

My nephew Seth in 1990 from a Provia slide

After all the time it took to scan only a few slides, I remembered why I stopped using film. This is just too much work. Scanning is so slow! With a sigh, I looked at the safety boxes containing thousands and thousands of slides. What am I going to do? What a quandary? I am sitting on thousands of slides and realizing that it will take the rest of my life to get these things scanned. Surely there's a better way!  I don't want to lose all these slides as they gradually fade away. I'll just have to do this gradually over the next several years! I hope my XP computer stays alive since Nikon is no longer supporting the scanner for new computer operating systems. I guess I better get back to scanning. I'm going to be at this for a while to come.

Friends, if you came into the photography hobby recently you will never have to suffer with this particular problem. Your digital camera makes images that I could only dream of back in the 1980s and 1990s when I was raising my little children. No scanning required!  Just shoot it, transfer it to your computer, and size it for whatever you need. Wonderful!

Keep on capturing time...
Darrell Young



The guide number (GN) for a flash unit measures how well it can light a subject at a specific ISO sensitivity, and with a precise angle of view (wide-angle vs. telephoto lens). To put it simply, a higher guide number means the flash is more powerful, all other things being equal.

Be careful when you are deciding on an external flash unit to use, whether it is a genuine Nikon Speedlight or an aftermarket unit. Simply comparing the GN is not enough. You must understand the settings the GN is based upon. Many flash units have zoom capability, and will be able to light up subjects farther away when zoomed out. However, imagine buying a flash unit from a manufacturer who publishes the GN based on a longer zoom position, and then comparing it to a different flash unit based on a shorter non-zoom position. The GN rating on the flash that is zoomed out would seem to be higher than the same unit not zoomed out. However, unless you are comparing flash unit guide numbers with exactly the same settings, it is truly like comparing apples and oranges.

For instance, to get an exact comparison of guide numbers, you’d have to know the following:

  • Distance from flash head to the subject
  • Aperture f-stop number in use on camera
  • ISO sensitivity of your camera’s image sensor
  • Angle-of-view setting on the flash’s zoom head
  • Actual angle of view your lens provides (must match flash head)
  • Temperature of ambient air

In reality, the camera has little to do with figuring the GN other than providing an aperture f-stop number and ISO sensitivity. So, how can you decide what GN is best without whipping out a scientific calculator? Just look at the flash unit advertisement to see what the GN is based on. Here are the most important figures:

  • Flash “zoom” angle-of-view setting, (e.g. 18mm or 105mm, etc.)
  • ISO sensitivity

If you see a flash unit advertised as GN 98, just realize that this is not enough information to make a decision. In this instance, the number 98 is the GN. It represents the number of feet from flash head to subject (98 feet). In countries that use the metric system, an equivalent GN is 18, which represents the number of meters from flash head to subject (18 meters). That number by itself is simply incomplete. Don’t buy a flash unit based solely on a GN like 98 or 100 or 111. Here’s why:
Let’s think about this for a second. Let’s say I were a manufacturer who was desperate to sell you a flash unit. I might stretch things a little bit. I might say my Super-Duper flash unit has a GN of 98 (feet) or 18 (meters), hoping you won’t ask about the settings I used to figure the number. Here is a comparison of two flash units with a so-called “comparable” guide number:

Super-Duper Flash Unit GN Information

  • GN 98 (18)
  • 80mm zoom-head setting
  • ISO 200 sensitivity

Nikon SB-400 Flash Unit GN Information (real values)

  • GN of 98 (18)
  • 35mm zoom-head setting
  • ISO 100 sensitivity
Nikon SB-400 Speedlight Flash Unit, GN of 98 (18)
Both of the flash units above have the same GN listed, so which one is really more powerful? The Nikon SB-400 will literally blow away the Super-Duper unit. Yet, the Super-Duper manufacturer lists the same GN! The Super-Duper unit must have its zoom head set to 80mm, a much narrower beam, and have twice the camera ISO sensitivity to equal the Nikon SB-400 unit. Mr. Super-Duper is hoping you won’t check the fine print at the bottom of the advertisement, so that you’ll think his much less powerful unit equals the Nikon SB-400. Surprisingly, there are flash unit manufacturers who will do exactly what I am describing.

What can you learn from this? The actual GN itself is not enough to make a decision on which flash unit to use. You must know what the GN is based on in order to make an informed decision. Take your time when buying a flash unit. You’re safe in sticking with Nikon’s Speedlights, since the ratings are well known and they’re designed to support all the features of your camera.

There are also excellent aftermarket flash units available from manufacturers like Vivitar, Sigma, Sunpak, Metz, Braun/Leitz, and others. Examine the underlying settings and not just the guide number itself. What the GN is based on is as important as the actual number.

For comparison purposes, the GN of the most Nikon pop-up Speedlights are from 39 to 56 (feet) or 12 to 17 (meters) at ISO 200. Nikon’s flagship Speedlight, the SB-900, is 157.5 (feet) or 48 (meters) at ISO 200. Obviously, the larger external flash unit has a lot more power and can light up subjects that are farther away.

Technical Guide Number Information (Geek alert)

For those technically minded among us, the GN is based on a specific formula: GN = distance × f/number. It is based on the inverse-square law, which states that doubling the GN requires four times more flash power. So, a flash with a GN of 100 is four times more powerful than a flash with a GN of 50. The guide number represents an exposure constant for a flash unit. For example, a GN of 80 feet at ISO 100 means that a subject 20 feet away can be completely illuminated with an aperture of f/4 (80 = 20 × 4) using a sensitivity of ISO 100. For the same guide number and an aperture of f/8, the light source should be 10 feet from the subject (80 = 10 × 8). Fortunately, your camera and flash combination are capable of figuring the correct values for you when you use TTL mode.

Keep on capturing time...
Darrell Young



This article is a very short excerpt from a book I am writing called, Moving Beyond Point-and-Shoot Photography: The Next Step – Learning to Use a DSLR or Interchangeable Lens Camera, due for release by Rocky Nook in the spring of 2012 in print and most eBook formats.

Angle of View

Angle of view simply means how much of a scene the camera's lens sees. In a horizontal and vertical direction, each lens can only take in so much. Each focal length (how long the lens is) has a different angle of view. To make it simple, let's examine three angles of view: wide-angle, normal, and telephoto.

The easiest way to determine whether a lens is wide-angle, normal, or telephoto is the size of the subject seen in the viewfinder compared to what the human eye sees.  If you look through the viewfinder with both eyes open and the eye looking in the viewfinder sees a subject that is smaller than what your other eye sees directly, the lens is probably a wide-angle lens. If both eyes see a subject of approximately the same size, the lens is probably a normal lens. If the viewfinder eye sees a subject larger than the other eye sees, the lens may be a telephoto lens.

Wide-Angle Lens: The size of the subject will be smaller than your eye sees it when you look away from the camera’s viewfinder. You will have used a wide-angle lens (or wide zoom lens setting) when you took a picture of a group of people or a landscape shot of a beautiful area. Wide-angle lenses allow you to capture more of the scene than other lens types. Wide-angle lenses are considered to have a short focal length.

Normal Lens: A normal lens creates a view that looks similar in size to what you would see with your normal eyes were you standing the same distance away as the lens. A normal lens (or medium zoom lens setting) is not especially wide, nor does it magnify the scene. It is a lens in the middle range and provides a normal view (not larger or smaller) than what your eyes normally see. Normal lenses are considered to have a medium focal length.

Telephoto Lens: The telephoto lens works like using a magnifying glass on a subject that is far away. It magnifies the subject in your camera’s viewfinder so that small objects become larger. A picture of a bird in a tree taken with a wide-angle or normal lens would be rather tiny and hard to see. However if you used a telephoto lens (or a zoomed-out telephoto lens setting) the bird will appear larger in the picture. Telephoto lenses are considered to have a long focal length. Let’s talk about focal length.

Focal Length Changes Angle of View

The simplest possible way to describe what focal length means is to say that focal length is the length of the lens on your camera (how long or short it is). Generally speaking, that is true. Longer lenses often have longer focal lengths and shorter lenses often have shorter focal lengths.

However, viewing the term focal length in this way is a little misleading because today’s lenses, made with computer-assisted design techniques, can manipulate (bend) light in ways that older lenses simply could not. A telephoto lens from today is often significantly shorter and lighter than a telephoto lens from years ago.

Focal length does not really mean the actual physical length of the lens, although that’s the way most photographers think about it. Technically speaking, focal length simply means the distance from a point, often in the middle of the lens—called the nodal point—to the imaging sensor surface (point of focus). If the distance from the nodal point to the imaging sensor is 50mm, you have a 50mm lens; if 200mm the lens is a 200mm lens. Before your eyes glaze over and you stop reading, I'll say, “Don’t worry about it!” That’s as technical as we need to get.

You don’t have to worry about nodal points and distances to imaging sensors. All you have to do is learn to recognize how a certain focal length lens (or zoom setting) performs on your camera. For those who want to know more about nodal points, there are plenty of easy to read articles on the web. Here is an article I found somewhat useful (although quite technical):

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cardinal_point_(optics)

Imaging Sensor Size Affects Angle Of View

One important fact you must know when discussing focal length is that the size of the imaging sensor affects the angle of view. For instance, the 35mm focal length provides a normal angle of view on an APS-C (DX) size sensor and a slightly wide angle of view on a full-frame (FX) imaging sensor (same size as a frame of 35mm film). You will have to read the camera’s manual to determine what is considered wide-angle, normal, and telephoto focal lengths for your camera. In general, the following chart of focal lengths is close to being accurate for most of us:

  • 6 to 12 mm is an extreme wide-angle lens
  • 16 to 25 mm is a wide-angle lens 
  • 30 to 50 mm is a normal lens
  • 60 to 150 mm is a short telephoto lens
  • 200 to 1200 mm is a long telephoto lens

You will notice that there are gaps in my chart. That is because a particular focal length’s angle of view is hard to classify for different camera designs and I want you to understand that this is a rough chart. Each imaging sensor size has a specific range of how they display the angle of view from each focal length.

An easier way to remember this concept is: the smaller the camera’s imaging sensor the narrower the angle of view will be (less wide angle). With a smaller micro four thirds sensor a 50mm lens is soundly in the short telephoto range. On a larger full-frame sensor a 50mm lens is a normal lens. The smaller the camera’s sensor, the harder it is to find an extreme wide angle lens, but the easier it is to find a long telephoto lens.

Likewise, the smaller a camera’s sensor, the greater the telephoto effect (narrower angle of view or greater the magnification) will be from a particular focal length. A 200mm lens is a long telephoto lens on a small micro four thirds sensor, but only a medium telephoto lens on a large full-frame sensor. The larger the camera’s sensor, the easier it is to find an extreme wide angle lens, but the harder (and more expensive) it is to find a long telephoto lens.

Telephoto lenses are usually much more expensive than wide-angle lenses, so there are some benefits to having a smaller sensor for people who like to shoot wildlife pictures. A camera with a smaller sensor can use a shorter focal length than one with a full-frame sensor to get a similar field of view.  For instance, an DX sensor at 400mm has a similar angle of view to an FX sensor using a 600mm focal length. A 400mm lens costs a lot less than a 600mm lens!

Basically, you will have to determine what range of lenses best work with and are available for your camera. That’s why it is so important to buy a camera with a nice system of lenses and accessories available. Camera manufacturers will usually offer wide-angle, normal, and telephoto lenses for your camera body. Its your job to determine which lenses you’ll need and what angles of view you want to have covered. Most of us end up with at least four lenses. A basic three-lens zoom lens kit covering a wide range of focal lengths, and a macro lens for extreme close ups.

In Summary: Focal length and angle of view work together to let you capture varying views of your picture’s subject. You can go wide angle for a big sweeping view, or zoom in to telephoto for a narrow, up-close view. The imaging sensor size in your camera modifies what the angle of view for each focal length looks like compared to other cameras with different size sensors. The best way you can learn about focal lengths and angles of view for your camera is by experimentation. Following is an assignment that will let you experiment with your current lens or lenses and see what range you can capture. It is an interesting experiment. Give it a try and you will learn a lot!

Assignment: Take a series of pictures using your lenses at successive focal length setting positions (e.g., 18mm, 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, etc.). Start with the shortest focal length (wide-angle setting) and zoom out after each shot until you have reached your longest focal length (telephoto setting). Choose a subject that allows wide-angle to telephoto shot distances (e.g., a cityscape, in a park, or at the lake) and photograph the same subject in each picture. Look at each image on your computer and see how the perspective changes with each focal length.  See how much more a wide-angle lens captures and how the angle of view narrows as the focal length increases with each successive picture. Use a tripod for best results!

Keep on capturing time...
Darrell Young
The sky is on fire!

At least it looks ablaze with blue, pink, yellow, and red as the sun sinks below the horizon. A feeling of awe washes over you as the sweeping beauty of an intense sunset excites your emotions.


"Where's my camera?" you think, as the bright colors deepen to orange, to gray, and then to night. "Another incredible sunset and I didn't get any pictures!"

As photographers, we appreciate the beauty of this earth and try to capture it with our cameras for later reflection.

Little slices of time and memories set in pictures. Few things can move a person like a sunset, in real life, or in great photographs. But, to capture one of these fleeting sky paintings, one must be prepared. How can I make sunset photographs that will satisfy myself and impress others?


Actually, it's not very difficult to do. If you have a decent camera and learn a few techniques, you can actually own a sunset. Let's spend a few minutes discussing the methods used to accurately photograph a sunset and you can start your collection.

Suggestion number 1Always have your camera with you!

Invariably, the most intense sunsets happen just as you walk out of the grocery store with a big bag of groceries or as you're driving home from work.

Since a sunset's most beautiful display only lasts from five to ten minutes, you have little time. If you don't have your camera within reach when you see one, it may be too late. 


So, get a small camera bag and sling it over your shoulder or put your camera in your purse or briefcase.

People may think you're a little strange since you always have a camera with you. But, they're the ones missing all the great sunsets, muttering, “I wish I had my camera!”

Suggestion number 2Wait for the sun to drop below the horizon

The beautiful interplay of colors is caused by light rays reflecting from clouds on the horizon. When the sun is still in the sky it can overpower the delicate colors and your camera's light meter with the yellowish light of the sun. Usually the most intense colors will happen within a few minutes of the sun's disappearance below the horizon. It's never a good idea to look directly into the sun anyway since it could damage your camera and more importantly your eye. Be careful!


That's not to say that you can never include the sun's disc in your pictures, but it takes special sky conditions to do so. If you can comfortably look at the sun as it shines through a misty cloudy sky, then your camera may be able to photograph it accurately.

Most of my sunset shots are taken after the sun has set. It's much easier to get good results without the bright sun showing in the picture. It's a good idea to take more than one picture, so shoot fast. To get the best exposure, it may be necessary to take 10 or 15 shots, if you have time.


Then you'll be rewarded with several different pictures reflecting what you remember. Images of the sky after the sun has set are usually very colorful, restful, and satisfying.

Suggestion number 3Frame the sunset with an interesting foreground object

If you take your picture with anything showing in the foreground, it will be silhouetted. The brightness of the sky will cause your camera's meter to completely underexpose the foreground, making it featureless.

Including an object like a tree on the edges of the picture can add some dimensionality and depth that makes the sunset seem more real in an image. Try to move away from wires, telephone poles, and towers since their silhouettes may not be as pleasing.


Any type of foreground foliage can make a nice dark contrast to the bright sky. It looks best to include a bit of the horizon at least, so that the perspective looks natural. You'll be amazed at the lovely composition, and so will your friends!

Suggestion number 4Use a zoom lens

Sunsets come in all sizes and shapes. That may seem like a strange statement, but, look carefully at the next few nice sunsets you see. Some will have very intense color in a limited spot, while others might cover half of the sky. A zoom lens, such as comes on most cameras these days, will allow you to photograph the sunset in different ways.


You can usually get several good images from a single sunset if you use your zoom lens carefully. Why settle for just one picture? You may want to zoom to a wide angle setting to get an overview of the whole sunset, and then zoom to a longer lens setting to capture only small sections of the sky.

By using the flexibility of a zoom lens, you'll not limit yourself to just one nice composition. If you work quickly, you can take horizontal and vertical shots, include foreground silhouettes, or even isolate a colorful abstract pattern of cloud shapes within the sunset. I've been known to shoot as many as 30 shots of a sunset in only a few minutes. Many of them turn out to be very nice images. Use your zoom!

In summary:
  • Be prepared by having your camera with you
  • Let the sun drop below the horizon or be blocked by clouds
  • If you include the sun in the frame, be careful
  • Use interesting foreground silhouettes
  • Vary your composition with a zoom lens
Using these methods will help you create outstandingly beautiful sunset images that everyone will enjoy for many years afterward.

Keep on capturing time...
Darrell Young