Category Archives: Op-Ed

Are you overthinking your camera settings?

Modern DSLRs offer many custom image settings, but do any of them really matter?
Modern DSLRs offer many custom image settings, but do any of them really matter?

How do I set up my in-camera settings? I get asked this question a lot. Most modern DSLR cameras offer a tremendous number of options for image quality and other settings that go beyond film, when all that mattered was setting the appropriate exposure.

Camera settings come in several categories, but here are the major ones:

  • Exposure (shutter speed, aperture, ISO)
  • White balance (color temperature)
  • Processing settings (color, contrast, sharpness)
  • Noise reduction settings
  • Other corrections (lens distortion, vignette removal, etc.)

Each of these settings offers the photographer control over the final image, so it’s easy to see how they can quickly become overwhelming. But here’s the deal. Unless you shoot JPEG or use your manufacturer’s raw conversion software (eg, Nikon Capture NX or Canon DPP), most of these settings are utterly meaningless.

For RAW shooters who use a 3rd party software tool such as Lightroom or Capture 1, the majority of these camera settings are completely ignored! Wait… what?! Continue reading Are you overthinking your camera settings?

Is Film Making a Comeback?

Garden of the Gods & Pikes Peak, captured with Fujichrome Velvia 50 film.
Garden of the Gods & Pikes Peak, captured with Fujichrome Velvia 50 film.

In the late 1990s, as the digital camera age dawned, I was shooting with a Nikon N70 film camera and whatever lenses I could afford on a graduate student’s (miniscule) salary. For me, the idea of switching to digital was something that I didn’t even fathom at the time, simply because a $5500  camera was so far out of my price range that I was never going to realistically own one.

Of course, when something costs a lot of money and you know you can’t afford it, you start to rationalize with yourself as to why you don’t really need one. And by “don’t really need” I mean we find ways to explain why our current gear is as good or better than some new technology. As the new century dawned, the “film vs. digital” debate bloomed across the Internet in chat rooms and discussion boards. Recently, that debate has returned, as some photographers are switching back to using film for certain clients. Continue reading Is Film Making a Comeback?

Five things you can do today to improve your photography

Lincoln Memorial at twilight, Washingon, DC.
Lincoln Memorial at twilight, Washingon, DC. This shot would be impossible without a tripod.

Want to get better at photography? Then here’s a quick list of some things you can do right now to start getting better.

  1. Step away from the gear forums and the endless debates over what the best camera/lens is and just use the gear you have. All the online advice in the world is no substitute for getting out there and capturing images.
  2. Get a good tripod and ball head, and use it. Yes, the tripod can be cumbersome at times, but the degrees of freedom it offers you in terms of creative options are worth it. With a tripod, you can capture long exposures that would be impossible to do hand-held. Plus, using the tripod will force you to slow down and think about your shots more.
  3. Learn to shoot RAW. Even if you aren’t a master of post-processing, shooting RAW today means that you’ll be able to have maximum flexibility with your images down the road. Since RAW editing software continues to improve, you’ll be able to use new tools on your old shots and get great results.
  4. Practice zooming with your feet. Use either a fixed focal length lens, or put some gaffer’s tape on your zoom ring. You’ll get a feel for perspective and composition, and it will force you to try new angles.
  5. Get out of Program Mode and tell your camera that you’re in control. Try using Aperture-priority metering to control depth of field. Compare images captured wide-open (low f-number) with those captured while stopped down (high f-number). Use auto ISO if you’re shooting hand-held so that you can get sharp images, or use your tripod for the best results.

Happy shooting!

Choosing the glass that’s best for you

The Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 AFS G lens is part of the “holy trinity” of FX lenses. Should it and its brothers be in your bag?

It’s shopping season again, and I want to talk a little about that obsession we have with camera lenses. Often times, you’ll hear, “get the best glass, you won’t regret it.” This is certainly the case in terms of total image quality, but is it practical advice? I mean, there are entire websites devoted to the minutia of MTF charts and brick-wall photos trying to convince us which lenses are the best, and which are marginal. I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot lately, especially when going through my images and examining my gear needs as they have evolved. Continue reading Choosing the glass that’s best for you

A few more thoughts on Nikon Capture NX-D

This is what happens when using Capture NX-D for more than 30 seconds.
This is what happens when using Capture NX-D for more than 30 seconds.

I managed to get the beta of Nikon’s Capture NX-D working again briefly. For some reason, it did not like working with files that weren’t in my home directory (I keep my images on a separate external drive).

Between reader comments and playing around more with the software, I’ve discovered a few more tidbits, some of which I’ve added to my previous post.

To add to the list of missing features:

  • Effect opacity
  • Auto Retouch Brush
  • Lasso Tool

So you won’t be able to do ANY retouching in CNX-D Continue reading A few more thoughts on Nikon Capture NX-D