6 Reasons You Should Own a Prime Lens

Yes the video is just 5 reasons but in this post you get a bonus 6th reason you should own a prime lens. Watch, read and let me know your thoughts on prime lenses in the comments below.

What is a prime lens?

A prime lens has a fixed focal length; it doesn’t zoom. Why would you want a lens that doesn't zoom? 5 Reasons below!

What are the advantages of prime lenses?

  1. Prime lenses often offer very wide maximum apertures, ideal for isolating your subjects from the background and capturing beautiful bokeh(background out of focus).

Screenshot 2014-07-06 12.18.09

  1. Those wide apertures also allow you to maximizing the light entering your camera. Keep your aperture wide and you can then keep your shutter speed higher or your ISO lower. This makes prime lenses a good choice for low light photography.

Screenshot 2014-06-30 14.56.12

  1. Because of their smaller and simpler construction, prime lenses have fewer moving parts which means less distortion and better quality images than your typical zoom lenses.
  1. Reasons 1 through 3 means you get a better value for your money as primes are often hundreds of dollars cheaper than zoom lenses.
  1. They are often smaller and lighter compared to typical zoom lenses - making primes a great choice when you want to travel light.

Screenshot 2014-07-06 12.28.47BONUS REASON

  1. Forcing yourself to use a prime encourages you to move to achieve the frame you want, as opposed to the lazy zoom in out and approach and moving and thinking critically about your framing is a good habit to build as a photographer.

Let me know in the comments your favorite prime lens and your favorite reason(s) for attaching a prime lens to your camera.I have recommended prime lenses for Canon and Nikon and 5 tips for sharper images

Photo Assignment #3 - Show Motion & How-to Panning

We are nearing the end of photo assignment #3 (this was announced a few podcasts ago)- Your task is to show motion, but no flowing water. Assignment #3 is due by 12pm EDT 6/30/14 - paste a link to your flickr/500px as a comment or watch for the call on Facebook. We recently had a brainstorming session on Facebook with some of the options including panning with cars (or planes) in the example below, people walking, kids running and oh so much more - be creative, think outside the box :) Screenshot 2014-06-25 11.29.22 Panning is one way to show motion and I thought I would give you some quick tips.Panning is the act of moving your camera with a subject - see example above.  The trick is to find the right shutter speed that blurs the background but still lets you get your subject in sharp focus. It will take practice and your keeper rate when shooting panning shots is going to go down.

  1. Set your camera on the fastest burst rate you have available.  The more shots you take in a panning series the more likely you will get one that works.
  2. Set your shutter speed (see table below) and determine your exposure. Avoid situations where your exposure is going to change greatly over the pan- if it is consider using Auto ISO.
  3. Pre focus on the spot your subject will be passing through, you can wait and focus on slower moving subjects but anything moving faster than a brisk walk is going to give you fewer chances for focus AND a good series of shots.
  4. Determine the point of your subject you will track and use one of your focus points as a guide to keep your camera aimed at the same location. Eyes are great point for tracking, or a wheel - keep your target small!
  5. Start(anticipate and start moving before your subject enters the frame) and end your pan in one smooth motion while shooting a burst of images. - This smooth motion increases your chances of getting a sharp shot.  As you move try to minimize your movement, just twist on your hips keeping everything else steady.
  6. Don't trust your LCD- Your subject can look in focus on that small screen- zoom all the way in and check at your point of focus.

 Screenshot 2014-06-25 11.41.42 Got more tips for panning shots? Leave them in the comments below.  This isn't the ONLY way to show motion - just one that I shared a few tips on.

How Focal Length Affects Perspective

Picking the right focal length when photographing a landscape or a person is extremely important. Watch the video above for some examples and suggestions or just remember - if you are photographing a person you usually want to be about 80-85mm(crop sensor camera users, that is closer to 50mm on your cameras)- that will create the most flattering look of a persons features.Outside Focal Length and your BackgroundPeople or Portrait photos and the Focal Length you choose matters!

70D Center Focus Point Issue

It appears that some models of the 70D has issues with accurate focus when using the center focus point through the viewfinder with lenses wider than f/2.8.  The images below illustrate the problem on my 70D.   To be fair I had to go looking for this issue and in the 6 months that I have used the camera I hadn't noticed an issue.  It is unclear how widespread the issue is. Many German users are unhappy while here in the United States I haven't heard a peep from a single user.  Is it because so few of us have used fast lenses and carefully pixel peeped?  Or?  At this time I don't want to speculate more. I have contacted Canon and am waiting for a response.  Please don't assume if you have taken a blurry photo that your 70D also has the issue.  Watch the video and follow the directions below for testing your own 70D.tl;dr 70D doesn't focus properly using the center focus point with lenses faster the f/2.8.  Use the LCD to focus and take photos at those wider apertures. Full Image 50mm f/1.2- Rollover to view image taken with LCD. See the difference? Slight change in sharpness.[himage]EF50mm f/1.2L USM ViewfinderEF50mm f/1.2L USM LCD[/himage]


100% crop of above image 50mm f/1.2- Rollover to view image taken with LCD. See the difference? Slight change in sharpness. Point of focus is chip on far beam.[himage]EF50mm f/1.2L USM VF at 100%EF50mm f/1.2L USM LCD at 100%[/himage]
Now with the 85 f/1.2 lens. Shooting at f/1.2 and a distance of 15' - Your depth of field at this aperture and focal length is 5.04 inches (very shallow)[himage]EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM VFEF 85mm f/1.2L II USM LCD[/himage]
100% crop of image above. Brace yourself for this difference[himage]EF85mm f/1.2L II USM VF 100%EF85mm f/1.2L II USM LCD 100%[/himage]
35mm f/1.4 at 100% crop - The difference isn't huge but it is noticeable.[himage]35mm f/1.4 LCD 100%35mm f/1.4 VF 100%[/himage] More Samples can be downloaded from this Dropbox folder - All are labeled and should be self explanatory. There is a folder of the smaller 100% crops or just zoom to 100% of the images in the main folder.I was careful to eliminate ALL other variable.  I used a sturdy tripod, set a fast shutter speed at least 2x the focal length and used 2-second delay with mirror lockup to avoid any blur from movement of any kind.  For each image you see I took at least three others under the exact same settings and picked the sharpest of the four.  So  the sharpest viewfinder image vs the sharpest LCD image.  There rarely was little difference between the shots.What about Autofocus Micro Adjustment(AFMA)?  I tried it and could occasionally get a matched focus at one distance (meaning the sharpness of images taken using the viewfinder to focus was the same as the image taken using the LCD to focus) but at other distances it would still be noticeably different and AFMA should generally correct across the range.  I do plan on testing more.At shorter distances with some lenses no issues were seen and only presented themselves at 30'(roughly 10 meters). I also tested the 50mm f/1.4 and the 85 f/1.4 and saw equally disappointing results.Test your 70D
  1. Put a lens that shoots at f/2.8 or wider (preferably wider) on your 70D
  2. Put your 70D on a sturdy tripod and carefully aim it at a target about 30'(roughly 10 meters) away
  3. Turn mirror lock up on (how to turn mirror lock up on)
  4. Turn on 2-second delay
  5. Switch to Manual mode - set aperture to the widest possible for the lens. Set shutter speed to be 2x focal length and ISO high enough to center exposure(hopefully this isn't above ISO 2000 - if it is you should consider testing in an area with more light)
  6. Switch to your center focus point
  7. Focus through the viewfinder
  8. Take a photo and repeat several times - Use autofocus each time
  9. Switch to Live view  and choose FlexiZone single - the white rectangle should be on the same mark as the center point was when looking through the viewfinder - if you need to move it slightly you can.
  10. Take several photos
  11. Review these images on the LCD at full magnification- push the zoom button until the image doesn't increase any more.  Switch between the images taken with live view and through the viewfinder.  you WILL see a difference in sharpness - with the live view images being sharper. This is guaranteed and known.  By how much and whether you can correct it using AMFA is key.  The Digital Picture has a great set of AFMA tips.
  12. It may also be useful to review the images in Lightroom

Findings?  Leave them below- Let me know what lens you used. Questions? Concerns?Leave a comment. Please do not assume that if you have taken one blurry photo your 70D is broken.  You MUST make sure you have eliminated all variables except the method of focusing used.  

Steel Wool Photography - Quick How-to

Steel Wool PhotographyHad an opportunity to try some Steel Wool Photography last night and thought I would share my experience-You will need -

  • Steel Wool - Grade 0, 00, 000, or 0000. Don't buy grade 1 or higher.
  • Wire Whisk to hold the wool
  • Chain or dog leash to clip to the wire whisk for spinning- this should be 3'-4' long
  • Lighter or 9 volt battery to light the wool
  • Tripod or someway to hold your camera steady for 20-30 seconds.
  • Flash light or light source(lighter can work) for focus assist with the camera
  • Junky clothes including a hoody or a hat to protect your hair and eye protection
  • Space to spin that isn't going to catch on fire.*

*You will potentially be throwing sparks 15-20' possibly more depending on the wind and these are sparks or bits of wool that continue to burn. DO NOT experiment with this anywhere that potentially could catch fire and have someone with you keeping an eye out for for issues.  And when done do a walk through picking up any mess and making sure nothing is still burning or smoldering.Directions -

  1. Stuff the steel wool inside the whisk and rearrange the whisk so it is spaced evenly, closing any big gaps created when you stuffed the wool inside.  You can keep the wool packed or unravel and re-pack loosely.  The more tightly packed the slower and more consistent the burn.
  2. Attach the chain, dog leash to the end of the whisk and experiment with spinning the contraption.
  3. Using a flashlight, compose and get focus on the subject that will be spinning.
  4. Set camera on manual mode - suggested starting settings around 20-30 seconds, f8-f/10 and ISO 200-400 - not a bad idea to set the camera on 2-second delay to avoid any extra jiggling or use a remote to trigger the camera.
  5. Light the wool(you don't need the wool to be on fire - small embers are enough, once you start spinning it will catch fire) and start spinning.
  6. Review images and try again.
Results -
Alternative Ideas - Not interested in spinning burning steel around your head?  Use a glow stick, flashlight, electrowire- You won't get the sparks but can still create some very cool images using the same basic camera settings and setup.  Watch my Electrowire light painting videoFuture Plans - I'd love to try some more - locations with reflections, locations like tunnels where the flying sparks hit walls and define the space, spinning as I spin to create more of an orb look and one more than I am not ready to share yet.   Have you done any steel wool photos? Share them in my Flickr Group or on my Facebook Page.Questions? Comments? Suggestions for future video topics? Leave them below.     

Tips for Sharper Images

I published a video with five tips for getting sharper images with your DSLR. The comments and tips left by the DPR community where excellent and I used those in a second video - both videos are embedded below - sometimes though a quick text list is preferred over a video- here are all of the tips.

Tips for Sharper Images:

Sweet Spot

Don’t shoot wide open(wide open refers to your aperture). Stop down which means close your aperture down from its maximum. Sharpest photos for many lenses are going to occur between f/5.6 and f/9 and this is referred to as the sweet spot.  This sweet spot varies from lens to lens but f/8 is usually a safe bet for the sharpest images with any lens.    Please don't take this tip as a suggestion to only shoot with your prime lens, that might open up to f/1.8 or wider, at only f/8 - use that when you have enough light and you don't care about depth of field. Use your judgement when shooting and find a compromise  - Don't always shoot at f/8 and don't always shoot wide open.

Fast Enough Shutter Speed -

Keep your shutter speed faster than your focal length and keep your shutter speed fast enough to freeze moving subjects. This is a tip that I have talked about before but again and again I hear from readers with blurry images simply because their shutter speed was slower than their focal length.  If you have an image stabilized lens you can cheat a little and go slower but you will need to practice, test and review your shots to see how slow a shutter speed you can reliably hand-hold.  And remember that image stabilization doesn't help with moving subjects.  See the chart below for some suggestions on shutter speeds for moving subjects. These are just starting points and the higher shutter speeds should be used when the subject is moving across the frame as opposed to toward and away from you.

Subject Suggested Shutter Speed
Walking 1/60 - 1/125th
Dancing 1/160 (Slow Dancing)- 1/250th (Crazy Dancing)
Running 1/200th - 1/250th
Soccer /Football 1/250th - 1/500th
Horses, Dogs Running 1/320th - 1/1000th
Car Racings 1/1000th - 1/2000th

Center Focus PointUse your center focus point so you know exactly what you are focusing on. When you let the camera use all the focus points it may poorly determine where it should focus and you will end up with your subject blurry simply because the subject is not in focus.  Switch to and use your center focus point so that YOU know where you are focusing.  How to switch your focus point? Bonus - the center focus point is often more accurate than the surrounding points.   Be careful about recomposing after focus if shooting at wider apertures.

NO IS/VR/OS/VC

If you are using a tripod make sure Image Stabilization is off.  Some IS systems can be fooled when on a tripod and actually compensate for movement that isn't there creating soft images.  Mostly seen at slower shutter speeds.  IS = Image Satbilzation, VR = Vibration Reduction, OS = Optical Stabilization, VC = Vibration Compensation.  See my full glossary of lens terms/acronyms.

Keep your ISO low

The higher the ISO of your images the noisier or more grainy they are going to look and this will decrease the perceived sharpness of the image.  This is one of the reasons I am not a fan of Auto ISO- it can be quick to go higher than you need causing very noisy images.  If you must choose between slow shutter speed and higher ISO go ahead and increase your ISO.  Noise can often be reduced in post process and motion blur can't (although photoshop is working on it)

Additional Tips for better/sharper images submitted by viewers/readers

Make sure your lens(es) are clean.  A quick swipe with a soft lens cloth should do the trick.If your subject has eyes - human or otherwise - those should be what you focus on. This becomes especially important when working at a shallow depth of field(wide apertures).Be careful not to move the camera when you push the shutter button - big movements change composition and smaller movements shake the camera.  Use the two second timer if no tripod is available and hold camera as steady as possible. I used that technique to take this photo or a waterfall without a tripod. Using the 2-second timer allowed me to concentrate and hold the camera as steady as possible with no change when the camera snapped the photo.Use the camera's high speed drive mode - Fire off a series of shots and one is likely to be sharper than the others.  Use this when your subject is moving or you are working at dangerously slow shutter speeds(and have no other options)And keep in mind the the sharpest lens is a good tripod and a good tripod head.  Having a good tripod that can hold the camera rock steady will allow you to shoot at slower shutter speeds so you can keep your ISO down and your aperture up for sharp images.

Family & Group Photo Tips

I thought I would take a few moments and offer some advice and tips for getting a nice group photo. I mostly had Thanksgiving and the Winter Holidays in mind as I wrote these but  apply to group photos anytime. Have some tips of your own? I'd love to hear, leave a comment below.Take the photo soon after everyone has arrived. Don't wait - people will drink, slop food on their faces and generally get more disheveled looking as the afternoon/evening goes on. Maybe this is just my family but timing leads into the next tip...If you all are gathering earlier in the day you should have good light - warm enough to be outside? Light will be the best out there. Gather everyone just inside shade -under a porch, near a pine tree - just make sure the shade is even - you don't want sun spots on people's faces and you don't want people facing into the sun. Chilly outside? Gather inside near a window - basically your popup flash should be last resort so any natural light you can find will be helpful. Not sure if the spot you picked will work well? Practice on a guinea pig...Copyright Tobias GelstonInstead of practicing on the whole group and struggling or feeling pressured, grab a guinea pig for a few moments of practice before you call everyone over. Younger kids that are old enough to stay still for a few are often willing - have them model for you while you get your settings right and after you take a couple of photos spend a moment pixel peeping, use the zoom button to enlarge the reviewed photos and make sure subject is in focus and light is good...I like manual mode where you are in complete charge of the camera. Set the shutter speed around 1/200 of a second - fast enough to make sure everyone is frozen. Now determine your aperture - one small row of people in front of you? You can safely shoot fairly wide(if your lens allows) but if you are nervous f/4 is a safe bet. Big enough group that you are dealing with more than one row of people? f/5.6 is better. Once you decide you aperture you should look at your exposure meter and adjust your ISO to center the meter or expose just to the right of center...Everything all set? bring in the whole group and get them to squeeze together. There is something about photos that emphasizes distance between subjects so what might seem like a friendly gap between two looks like a family feud / canyon in the photo so really get them squeezing and that often encourages some friendly laughter too.Do you need to be part of the group? Self timer is one option and many models will allow several photos to be fired off at the end of the countdown - this gives you options, the general rule of thumb is at least one photo per person in the group. The more you take the more likely you are to have one where everyone's eyes are open and no one is making that weird face. Have a camera with WiFi built in? Use it as the remote but again make sure everything is setup before you slip into the group photo.Got younger kids in the group - I trick them into looking at the camera by asking them if they see the bird in the lens- seems mean as I write it but always seems to help in getting their attention directed toward the camera. Bribes work too and are totally fare game - whatever it takes to get the photo :)Bonus Tips/Suggestions:- Make sure you turn IS (Image Stabilizer) off if the camera will be on a tripod- Get Candids too - don't just do the group photo and don't let everyone pose all night- Snap some photos of the food too

Photographing the Stars - Quick Guide

Quick tips on capturing the stars and possibly a meteor or two if you are shooting during a meteor storm or have access to a very clear sky. During the peak of meteor storms you can see 80-100 meteors an hour for those with clear/dark skies. Normally that number is closer to 12 an hour, again skies need to be dark! Sony a7RII w/ Rokinon 14mm 25 secSony a7RII w/ Rokinon 14mm - 34 MINUTE Exposure When taking star photos you can end up with star trails or no star trails. It all depends on your focal length and shutter speed and whether or not you follow the 500 rule.

500 Rule for Star-trail-less Photos

The 500 rule states that your shutter speed needs to be faster than your focal length divided by 500.  Some places you see 600 used but safer is 500.  So if you are shooting at 50mm you take 500/50 and get 10 seconds.  BUT that only applies to folks shooting with full frame cameras, if you have a crop sensor camera like the Canon Rebel Series of the Nikon Dxxx series you need to multiple your crop factor times your focal length and then divide that by 500.   Nikon crop factor is 1.5 and Canon is 1.6.Here is a handy chart to use as a starting guide- Numbers are your maximum shutter length in seconds before you will start to see the dots of the stars turn into streaks.500 Rule Star Trail ChartColumns B through D give you the number of seconds before you will probably start seeing star trails. You can of course go shorter, longer and you will start to see star trailsFor a starry sky you often want to go as wide as possible. 18mm if using the kit lens but if you have access to anything wider- use it.  Wider lenses allow you to gather more light and often offer a wider maximum aperture.

A good starting point10 second shutterAperture f/3.5 (wider if possible with your lens)ISO 3200

The trick is focusing and composition.  It is often helpful to include some of the landscape in your composition but judging if you have a straight horizon and focus in pitch black is difficult. A solution is to take some test shots using a VERY high ISO and a shorter shutter speed - these will be very noisy images but you can, without waiting a full 10 seconds at a time, judge your composition and probably your focus.

Focus Tip - If your lens has any type of distance indicator you want it set near infinity, that is not a guraguaranteet the stars will be in sharp focus but it is likely. Use the test shot suggestion to judge focus and make adjustments as needed.   If there is a silhouette or a building, anything in the distance you can use that to manually focus, radio towers with their little blinky red lights can also be helpful.  Anything further than a 1/2 mile away is going to give you a target that will set your camera on infinity focus and that should give you sharp stars.

Keep warm and keep shooting.Recommended Gear-Sturdy Tripod: Dolica Proline Tripod |MeFoto Travel Tripod (Review of both Tripods)Intervalometer or TriggerTrap for using Bulb Mode or just firing your shutter without shaking the camera.Wide Angle Lens: Tokina 11-16 f/2.8 is one of the best and most affordable lenses for photographing stars. 

 Photographing Meteors

When photographing meteors you want to avoid any star trails, you want the little streaks left by the meteors to stand out so follow the chart.First task is to find a suitable location with a clear view of the source or radiant. In the case of the Perseids you want a dark sky to your north east, in the direction of the Perseids meteor shower.  I intent to use the the Google Sky App on Android | iOS options.   You really want to make sure the sky is dark, these longer exposures quickly pick up any light pollution and are going to blow out the bottom of your image.Picking a focal length and focusing - You want to go fairly wide here, under 50mm but not really wide as that will likely give you puny little streaks that take up a very small percentage of your image.    Focusing is tricking.  If you have a light tower or something contrasting against the sky, like a mountain, in the far distance you can use that. If you have a distance scale on your lens you can set it just shy of the infinity mark.   Neither of those work for you?  Raise your ISO to the highest possible and take a few shots, a very high ISO will allow you to take a shorter longer exposure so you aren't sitting around for 30 seconds wondering if you have focus.  Take a series of test photos until you are sure you have nailed focus.Camera settings - You have your shutter speed from the chart above, your aperture should be close to wide open and your ISO should be as low as possible.  You might be better off with even shorter exposures, longer exposures will dim any streaks you get. I hope to use my Triggertrap long exposure (star trail) feature to automatically take photo after photo, their star trail feature lets me specify a long exposure and the gap between images.  You can use a standard intervalometer too but that isn't quite as elegant. You could also use a remote and have the camera set for the desired shutter speed and least desirable you push the shutter button - if you use this method make sure you use the 2 second delay so that you pressing the button doesn't jiggle the camera creating blurry images.Your Camera must be sitting on a sturdy tripod.Sit back and enjoy the show.(this is one reason I am going to let Triggertrap do the work, I want to be looking at the sky, not the back of my camera all night. More about the PerseidsThe best budget lens for astrophotography.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_TSrFKLzsrQShare your thoughts, tips and comments below.   

HOW-TO: Sparkler Photos - Long Exposure Light Painting

For many summer means fireworks and sparklers - here are my quick tips(with video) on capturing cool photos using sparklers or really any small light source.

You need:

  • Camera with control over manual settings

  • Tripod

  • Flashlight or cell phone (for low light focusing help) OR Hotshoe LED light

  • Pile of sparklers or a glow stick or small flash light - any light source really

  • Remote shutter release - Not mandatory but helpful (Recommended cheap one)

First task is to do this all safely.  Don't hurt anyone in an effort to get a photo and make sure you are complying with all fireworks and sparkler laws in your area - beautiful photos can be made with glow sticks, flash lights and other non-dangerous light sources.

Your shutter speeds are going to range from 2 seconds on up to Bulb mode so the use of a tripod is a must.  

Setup your camera - manual mode (M), a good starting point is a 5 second shutter speed, ISO 200 and an aperture around f/4.5.

Have your subject stand still and hold up a small light source so you can focus on them, either auto focus or manual, zoom in. After you get focus switch to manual so that the camera isn't struggling to get focus in the dark.  You can also use back button focus to avoid this issue. They can now put away the little flash light

Once you have focus have them light the sparkler and start moving it around.  Use the remote release to trigger the shutter or gently press the shutter button on the camera (you really need to be careful not to wiggle the camera when you press the button, alternatively you can use the self-timer: 2-sec delay but that does require a bit more coordination with your subject.

A third option is to use the remote shutter release and BULB mode in your camera.  In the T4i/T5i bulb mode is activated by setting the camera to M and increasing the shutter speed past 30 seconds. This doesn't mean the shutter has to be longer than 30 seconds for your exposures, it will just stay open as long as you hold the shutter release button down.  This is great if someone is trying to write their name with a sparkler, you hold it down just as long  as it takes the subject, when you release the button the shutter closes. With sparklers I notice that the slower you move them the more sparky trails you get - fast moving sparklers leave a more smooth line of light.   You are limited by your imagination!

Video: Sparkler Photos - Long Exposure Light Painting

Related Video - How To Photograph Fireworks

How to Capture Lightning

The first rule of lightning photography is to be safe.   Do NOT put yourself in any danger to get a photo, ever. 

The story behind the photo.   With spring comes thunderstorms and I had been paying attention to the weather reports and thinking about possible vantage points.  I was looking for some place with enough elevation to get a good view without being at the top of a mountain myself.  I also wanted a view that was going to be fairly clear or artificial light, with longer shutter speeds those lights can really ruin a scene.  Though there are plenty of shots with cityscapes and lightning, but the area I am in doesn't really offer that.     I used my knowledge of the area and Google Earth to scout potential vantage points settling on a location that gave me a good view of the Connecticut river valley.

I brought my 5D Mark III, tripod and Triggertrap app on an iPad.    Now I don't have any pictures of the setup in the car, I was shooting out of the car window with the tripod spread around my lap.  It was not the most comfortable and roomy setup but I could live with it.  Truthfully I didn't end up using the Triggertrap app, for no reason other than I pulled up and lightning was happening so I rushed to setup everything. I should have taken a moment to plug in the app, the Star Trail Mode would be perfect for lightning photos.


Triggertrap Star Trails

Yes, contrary to popular belief you don't try to capture lightning by watching for a bolt and quickly pressing the shutter button - you will not be fast enough. What you do is shoot long exposures - anywhere from 6 seconds to 30 seconds can give you good results.  So the shutter is open, the sensor is recording a fairly dark scene and hopefully during the time the shutter is opening a strike will happen.   I have heard from one of my readers that if a strike happens in the middle of an exposure it is a good idea to throw  a black cloth over the lens to keep any more light from entering and potentially ruining the image.  I may try that in a future shoot.

Now when I first set up I took a few long exposures to get a sense of my composition, it was quite difficult to get a sense through live view or the view finder, so you can raise your ISO way up for a few test photos, this way your shutter speed only needs to be a few seconds - these aren't keepers, just trying to get a feel for what the camera will capture.

001_10.0 sec at f - 7.1It is a good thing I took her advice and adjusted my horizon, I would have cut off even more of this bolt.I was shooting around 40mm on a full frame camera.  That is about 22mm on a crop sensor camera like the Canon T4i/T5i.30 shots later I captured what would turn out to be the best of the night- Rollover to see the unprocessed straight out of the camera shot.  38mm on full frame at ISO 400, f/10 and 20.0 seconds shutter speed.

[himage]003_20.0 sec at f - 10

004_20.0 sec at f - 10[/himage]

I continued shooting for another 30 minutes, another 40 shots and captured a few more bolts but the storm fell apart and low level clouds rolled in making it difficult to capture individual bolts[gallery ids="3623,3622,3621,3620,3619,3624" orderby="rand"]SO if you read all of this, or skipped to this point let me give you the moral of the story.

  1. Be Safe
  2. You have a higher probability of making a cool photo with planning. Gear, Location and Knowledge all need to be considered in your planning.
  3. Be patient - I sat in my car, rain coming in the window for over an hour, in this case I was enjoying myself so it wasn't a hardship but you can't expect to roll up/show up to someplace and instantly snap something magical. Don't count on luck. Anytime I think about luck I think about Las vegas, none of those casinos are hurting for money, luck is NOT on our side most of the time.

  

Traveling with the 5DM3, GPS, 24-70 f/2.8, Eye-Fi Card and rambling on. . . .

I recently returned from 8 days in Costa Rica/Panama and I wanted to share some thoughts- Here are the "highlights" of my ramblings in this video1.  Dual Card slots in the 5D Mark III are really nice - I shot Full RAW to 32GB CF cards (SanDisk Extreme) and small JPEG to the Eye-Fi card (16GB X2).  Using the Eye-fi's direct mode I was able to easily and without issue share selected images via the rate function to a Nexus 7.  Previous eye-fi cards/firmware I found direct mode to be buggy but it was really solid this trip.  On the Nexus I used PhotoGrid HD to create collages of 3-4 images and shared those to Facebook.Costa Rica Collage via Photo Grid HD 2. The Nexus and my 5D Mark III fit snuggly in a Vanguard 18 Bag.  I didn't always carry the nexus with me and if I wanted to keep the GPS logger attached to the camera I can remove the internal padding in the Vanguard and it fits.  Because I use a lens hood instead of a UV filter I can put the camera lens down in the bag and not get the end of the lens covered in sandy bits.   I didn't even bring a camera strap (confession I forgot it at home) but using the Vanguard was preferable.  The camera was out of site unless I was holding it.  The top zipper seam on the Vanguard makes it very easy to "drop" the camera into the bag and ZIP. . it's gone.3. I enjoy the quality and value you can get with a prime lens - said another way I have never been a fan of "do-it-all" lenses like the 18-200.  This trip has changed my opinion. . . some.   I certainly wanted nice photos but I was not willing to carry a ton of gear, either because I didn't want to look like a walking target for theives or I just didn't want to lug around a ton of gear, mostly the last.  I spent most of my time shooting with the 24-70 f/2.8 Mark II and brought along the 70-300 IS USM for longer wildlife shots.   I have since played with the new 24-70 F/4 IS with Macro mode and I would have rather taken that - the f/2.8 is only marginally useful for vacation type shots and the IS plus the macro mode would have been a welcome addition in several instances.  Another option for me would be the 24-105 - quite a nice range.  For crop sensor shooters using cameras like the T4i (650D) the 18-135 would have been a fantastic lens.  Red Frog4. I used the GPS logger from Canon (GP-E2) and it worked VERY well.  95% of my photos are already tagged.  Battery life of the unit was excellent and it was quick to get a lock.   There does seem to be an invisible action that causes the camera battery to drain. I often leave my camera on overnight and on this trip I would find the battery dead in the morning IF I had also left the GPS logger on.  The simple solution is to turn the GPS and or the camera off when you are not using it.GP-E2 Tagged Photos in Lightroom

365 Project - KISS

I mentioned in my Be a Better Photographer Tip #53 [Project 365 & Gimmicks] that I was considering starting a 365 project again (results of my last attempt a few years ago).  Well the first 8 days of 2013 were easy, traveling through beautiful Costa Rica and Panama there was something new and exciting to photograph every day.Cosa Rica SunriseNow and I am back home and although Southern Vermont blanketed by snow is no less photogenic it is a struggle to see past what is to my eyes "ordinary" AND to find the time.  Mostly to find the time.     Here is my plan with an emphasis on keeping it simple(KISS) and not giving up the whole thing if I miss a day. . or two.

  1. Take a photo each day - My goal will be to use my DLSR 98% of the time but if I have taken a cell phone photo that I am particularly proud of that can work too.
  2. Review the photos with some regularity. The back of the camera is not a substitute for seeing the photo on a big screen and inspecting the photo along with the metadata - seeing your settings side by side with the image is a great way to understand the relationship of exposure, depth of field, movement blur etc.
  3. Upload these photos with some regularity - probably to a Facebook album, maybe to Blip and anywhere else I feel like sharing.
  4. Provide a few additional challenges, themes or ideas to keep it fresh- This might seem to fly in the face of keeping it simple but you do run the risk of hitting a mental road block and giving up for lack of creativity.  Sites like http://projectlife365.com provide ideas/challenges for each day, helping to keep the brain juices flowing.  Plus it is really fun to meet a challenge and then review how others approached or interpreted the same challenge.

#365Project - 1/10/13 I will be back with some more ideas soon - in the meantime pick that camera up an snap a photo, then do it again tomorrow and the day after.  You certainly aren't going to improve your photography by putting it off.  And don't hesitate to give me a shout and ask how I am doing with the challenge.  

Be a Better Photographer Tip #53 [Project 365 & Gimmicks]

Confession - I totally made up the tip number!Now that we have that out of the way let me share a startling tip - to be a better photographer you need to practice. And by practice I mean take pictures, lots of pictures, shocking, I know. Now if you aren't shooting for a living, it can be easy to let days, even weeks go by, where you barely pick up the camera. Not to mention your subjects(kids, pets, better half) can get a bit tired of a camera in their face all the time. I have two suggestions for you and they can be combined for a good bit of fun and learning. The first suggestion is to start a 365 project, the goal being to take a photo a day for a year. This is challenging on many levels and to be honest I have never made it a full year despite starting a few times.  There are few better ways to grow as a photographer and increase your skill than carrying your camera with you everywhere and always looking for your photo of the day. And you will, always be looking for that new photo or even better you will be making a photo and it doesn't matter if it is at 8 in the morning or 11:58pm. Every single day you will be learning and thinking about photography. If that sounds a bit exhausting it certainly can be, but just like you need to work your muscles to exhaustion to see physical improvement you need to work your brain to see improvement. Three years after my last failed attempt I am still intensely proud of some of the photos I made, not necessarily because each image is perfect, it may be the fun I had creating the image, the conditions I was forced to shoot in or the new places I discovered around the corner from my house.A few photos from my 365 projectWorried about finding subject matter for a photo a day?  This brings up my second suggestion - Create a gimmick.   Last year I was in a craft store and saw a package of googly eyes and my eyes on stuff photo series began and now I not only get to create a photo but I often try to create more of a story.  A good photo usually tells a story and suddenly I am the photographer AND the director of each of these little mini-shoots. Now I hope I don't sound crazy. I am not going too deep down the rabbit hole, but with some of the photos I decide which way my subject should look, what is in the frame and all of the elements that tell the desired story.  These subjects never get bored or wander off giving me the time I need to work on my photo.    So grab some googly eyes or a lego mini figure or whatever you have laying around.Start taking and making photos and telling stories.Two fungi walk into a bar   I just talked myself into starting a new 365 - The new year is right around the corner and that seems as good a time to start as any - Who wants in?

Amazon Prime Now Available on Monthly Basis

Sign up for Amazon Prime now!UPDATE: Amazon has ended this experiment - they are offering a free month Trial which right about now would be pretty smart to sign up for :)  Loads of holiday shipping FREE!It is no secret that I love Amazon, I only have good things to say and their Prime service is one of my favorite features. Amazon Prime is the Free 2-day shipping on 100,000 of items, a huge streaming video collection and free access to top notch kindle  books.Amazon PrimeOh and $3.99 overnight shipping, I have even received items the next day when selecting the free shipping - their order and shipment operations are top notch.  Up till now this was a $79 a year fee, Amazon is now offering this for $8 a year - yes you pay more over the course of a year but I strongly suggest you do this for November and December - The free shipping is offered to where ever you need to ship, not just your house, which makes it wonderful for flinging holiday gifts all over the US.So - Go Sign up for Amazon Prime now - you will thank me later.  And I mean that in the literal sense - you will honestly want to thank me later for saving you time, money and hassle.