Tuesday, 20 June 2017

What's the difference between TTL and manual mode for external flash photography?

My recent love for doing dslr photography using external flash has made me do a lot of experiments in past 2 weeks. In this post I am going to talk about the two important working modes of a dslr flash unit. This post will summarize the working of each mode of operation and which one to prefer based on your subject, lighting, etc. The mode of operation of an external flash in photography is classifies into two main types:
1) TTL 
2) Manual
TTL: Through the lens. Canon dslr models have E-TTL whereas Nikon ones have i-TTL for the same mode.
When to use: Indoor photography with rapidly changing lights, fast movement, changing angles, distance variation from subject,etc. are some major factors where ettl comes to rescue. It is not convenient to adjust the flash power every time in order to take a shot just because lighting changed. What would happen? The shot that you wanted to take might be gone by the time power is adjusted. If you are going to change aperture or shutter speed as well, try to stick with TTL. I usually like to keep TTL flash on my camera hot-shoe. 
Bad side: TTL uses 2 flashes, one for metering and other one for actual shot. This makes it really heavy on power consumption. Be sure to carry an extra pack of batteries. 

Manual: Like the word itself says, this mode involves setting the power manually. 
When to use: Outdoor portraits, studio portraits, off camera flash. This mode of external flash operation works really well when a user has full control over the subject and lighting. Example: Portrait photography. 
Bad side: For me, the only inconvenient thing was multiple physical movements required to adjust power. Not an issue anymore, there are cheap third party remotes easily available these days. 

Pro tip: 
1) Variation of f-stop in dslr photography controls flash exposure, whereas shutter speed controls ambient light.
2) The manual changing of flash power and zoom level can be done by using optical or radio based triggering. 





Monday, 12 June 2017

How to focus at infinity doing night photography?

In the previous post we talked about taking pictures of moon with a dslr. The reason for this post can be contributed to the fact that focusing on moon is still easier as compared to stars. Also, what to do when you are in middle of nowhere trying to take pictures of star trails, night sky, milky way, etc. It is hard to see your camera controls on a night without moon and away from city lights.
I recently went on a night photography excursion with a group of photographers to do astrophotography. It was pitch dark as there was no moon at all. Here are a few things that worked for most of us when it comes to focusing, pretty sure at least one of them would work for you.

1) Switch to manual mode. Go to live view and zoom in all the way using your camera functionality (not lens). Point it to the brightest star, focus by rotating the focus ring manually. Take a few test shots and see stars by zooming all the way into the photograph.

2) Use magic lantern. This software adds multiple inbuilt functionalities to your camera. Here is link to magic lantern website where you can download the zip file for your dslr camera make and model.

3) Focus (auto) at a very distant object during daytime (mountain peak or a building) and then turn into manual focus. You have to be really careful about not disturbing the focus ring which might lead to blurred images.

4) Sometimes there might be a distant light source available like a lighthouse or ocean navigation warning lights. You can use them as a source to focus your camera in auto mode and then switch to manual mode. 

Talking about the excursion, it went really well. We got to see the milky way as well for the first time, it was a priceless moment.  Here is one of my shots showing milky way over the pacific ocean. It was taken using a Tokina 11-16 mm F2.8 ultra wide angle lens on my dslr.


astro photography canon dslr
Milky way over pacific ocean

Tip: To see your camera controls in dark, buy a red colored light source. It keeps the light disturbance to a minimum level and your eyes will adjust easily. Keep in mind that some lenses focus beyond infinity, so use a marker for easy identification of the infinity focus spot.

Be a dslr pundit.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

How to use flash exposure compensation for brighter images?

When doing photography in a dark environment with dslr camera in auto mode, the pop up flash gets activated automatically. This is because the brain of camera thinks it is too dark, and requests help from pop up flash to throw in some light. Most of the entry and mid level dslr photography cameras have an on board flash system from the manufacturer itself. Example: Canon Rebel series, 20D, 30D, 40D, etc.
FEC(Flash exposure compensation) is the ability to adjust output power level of a dslr flash unit. The need for flash exposure compensation is due to the fact that the internal flash can cast really harsh shadows or can even lead to an over exposed subject. The adjustment of power level allows a better control over the lightning which leads to properly exposed subject. 
For most of the canon dslr cameras, flash exposure compensation value can only be changed in manual, program, aperture priority, and shutter priority modes.  The images below were photographed in a totally dark room with the external Yongnuo flash unit as the subject.

Image 1: FEC -2
Image 2: FEC Zero
Image 3: FEC +2


Decreased exposure compensation in flash
FEC-2

Flash exposure compensation 0
FEC Zero


FEC +2
The impact of changing flash exposure compensation is clearly visible in above 3 images. Image 3 has the highest value of flash exposure compensation, and that's why it is the brightest.

Use: This flash exposure compensation technique can be used to assist in filling shadows for outdoor portrait photography. Another use can be for indoor events. Increase the exposure compensation and use a bounce card or cover to reflect it from the ceiling. This would light up the whole area with a very pleasing light. Bouncing flash prevents harsh reflections and over exposed edges while doing indoor photography. 


Pro Tip: Camera retains the flash exposure compensation values even after switch off, restart. Let's say you finished a photography session with fec+2 and switched off the dslr, keep in mind that this value would be retained next time whenever a photograph is taken. 

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Top reasons to use high ISO on a dslr

When I started photography 2 years ago with a cropped sensor dslr, ISO was one of the terms that would make me feel nervous about my own shots. Going through various blogs, there was a general perception about higher ISO values being always bad. I made a real solid picture in my mind that anything above 100 ISO would make pictures look really ugly and noisy even when the format was RAW. 
Switching slowly from landscapes to event and indoor photography after one year, the struggle to get properly exposed shots started to become fairly evident. Cultural events, music concerts and indoor sports taught me how important is the value of ISO. The need for faster shutter speed in a low light environment is one of the most common scenarios every photographer has to face at some point in his photography journey. 

Increase shutter speed -> Leads to less incoming light
Wider aperture-> Allows more light
Environment lighting -> Already very less during events.

As seen above, a poorly lit environment makes it harder to do dslr photography even when a lens with wide aperture is available. ISO or external flash can be the only life saver here. I recently shot my first indoor dance event with a prime lens and a telephoto zoom lens. Interestingly even my 50 mm 1.8 mm struggled to get properly exposed shots because I was still in my old mindset of not bumping up the dslr ISO. The event was in progress and I was losing shots, there is no worse feeling than this. Had to swallow my low ISO pride and changed the value to 800. Voila! The shots looked much much better from an exposure point of view. I came home and copied the photos to laptop for post processing followed by 2-3 hours of post processing. Here is what I observed:
A poorly exposed low ISO shot when post processed is inferior in quality as compared to a properly exposed high ISO shot. 


Low light high ISO shot
400 ISO shot in low light at 1/15 seconds

Use of external wireless flash units can help with properly exposed shots without bumping up the ISO, but most of the events don't allow this. Astro and star trail photography is another huge branch of photography that involves usage of higher values. What do you think is a usable range of  ISO value for a cropped sensor dslr?

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

How to do macro photography using reverse lens technique?

If pictures of extremely small objects sometimes draw your attention, then this post is for you. Taking pictures of small insects, objects, etc comes under the branch of macro photography. There are multiple techniques in order to do close up or macro photography as mentioned in the list below. In the next section we will get started with the third technique i.e. reverse lens macro photography.

1) Extension tubes: Electric and Non electric.
2) Macro lens
3) Reverse lens technique.

Close up or macro photography can be done using a cheap kit lens. The quality of pics produce by using the reverse lens macro technique is simply astonishing.  All you need is a reverse lens macro ring matching your lens filter size. Filter size of my canon 18-55 kit lens is 58 mm, ring is shown in image below.

ring adaptor for reverse macro photography
                                Reverse macro ring for canon 58mm
 Once you have the ring, following are the steps:
1) The ring comes with threads. Screw the ring to front element of your kit lens. Set the lens focal length to 55 mm. Lower the focal length, the closer you have to be the subject and thus greater magnification.


reverse macro photography ring attached to kit lens
                     Canon kit lens with reverse macro ring attached

2) Disconnect the lens from your dslr body and attach it backwards. The ring has threads which help in the attaching the lens in reverse direction.

Reverse ring adapter used to attach kit lens.
                      Kit lens in reverse macro style on 40D

3) Turn on the dslr camera. F stop value would be 00 as there is no electrical connection between the lens and the dslr body. Don't worry about controlling the depth of field as of now. Manual focus lenses (ring to adjust f stop value) really help to achieve superior depth of field, will make a separate post explaining this.

4) Look through the viewfinder and go close to a really small object such as a coin, almond, pen cap, etc. Everything would look blurry and out of focus. For accurate focus, concentrate on one object and move back n forth. You will see a particular distance at which the object would get in focus. This is your optimal distance, stick to it.

5) Take a few shots and adjust shutter speed accordingly for exposure. As there is a lot of shake, I would definitely recommend either a higher shutter speed or using a tripod. To compensate for a proper exposure, in built or hot-shoe mounted flash can also help. This topic would be covered in detail in next post.

Here are some sample shots taken by me using this technique.

Reverse lens macro photography example
                                                                           Clove

Reverse lens macro photography example
                                                                            Cumin Seed

Reverse lens macro photography example
                                                                           Water drops

Reverse lens macro photography example
                                                                Ray ban logo on sun glasses
Reverse lens macro photography is not an easy technique, it needs a lot of patience and practice. I would definitely add that the pain is totally worth it, as you can see the in example images. A 5 dollar reverse macro lens ring from ebay is all you need, so why not give it a try? Share your results in comments.

Pro Tip:
18 mm -> Example photography subjects: Cumin Seed, Fruit fly, Ant, etc.
55 mm -> Example  photography subjects: Currency coins, cashews, keyboard alphabet, etc. 

Monday, 13 March 2017

How to take photographs of moon using a normal dslr?

I learn something new every time I go out with my dslr camera to do photography. An ultra wide angle lens is a part of my gear now, and I have experimented a lot with it in last couple of days. The motivation behind this post is my most recent work doing night photography including moon and stars. It required a fair amount of dabbling with camera settings and post production work too. If you have ever wondered on how to take pictures of our planet's natural satellite, this post will walk you through each and every step. Let's get started.

Equipment required:
Telephoto lens. 
Sturdy tripod. 
Any APS-C or full frame dslr camera. You don't need a fancy full frame or high fps camera. 



Camera settings: 
Manual Focus.
Spot metering.
White balance: Auto if shooting RAW.
Aperture: Somewhere between f8- f12.
Bracketing: Not necessary though, but you can take 3-4 different shots by varying shutter speed. 

Steps:
1) Attach the telephoto lens to your dslr and turn the power on. 
2) Set up your dslr on a stable surface using a really sturdy tripod. 
3) Point it to the moon and zoom your lens to its maximum focal length. Look through viewfinder if you can see the moon.
4) Turn on live view and magnify 10x times. 
5) In manual focus mode, try to adjust focus on the moon by rotating the focus ring on lens. This takes a lot of patience as the camera shake is really strong since we are zoomed all the way in.
7) Once focus is set up, adjust the shutter speed for proper exposure. I am happy with single shot for now, but you can try 3-4 bracketed shots as well. 
8) Take a picture of some other interesting subject such as highway light trails, a person or a tree to act as foreground. This would add so much more interest to the photograph and make it stand out a lot. For me, I took an image of highway using wide angle lens with exposure time of 30 seconds. 

After photography work: Import both the images in ACDSee Ultimate 10, Adobe Photoshop, or any other layer editor. Combine the image from step 7 and step 8. I would love to show my post production workflow, but it will make this post too long. Stay tuned, will do another post soon. Here is what my final image looks like after merging two images:

79% moon during night
                                                   F11, 100 ISO 30 seconds.
                                                    F11, 100 ISO, 1/80 seconds for moon.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Does Nikon vs Canon really matter while buying a dslr?

It's Friday night and I just finished my dinner. Instead of going somewhere this weekend, I decided to give some time to my blog. As the title explains, this post is going to be about the most burning topic in the history of digital photography.
Is Nikon better than Canon?
Is Canon better than Nikon?
Should I buy Canon or Nikon?
I was recently asked one of the above questions above and honestly believe it served as the motivational source for this blog post. I always feel happy and delighted to talk about anything related to digital photography, but the Nikon vs Canon battle is very tricky. Without referring to lab results or super technical facts, I will keep try to keep it really simple. Both the brands manufacture superior quality products and are very close competitors of each other. Full frame sensor cameras, cropped sensor cameras, zoom lenses, wide angle lenses, prime lenses, flash units and what not. These two brands run almost parallel to each other. Choosing one over the other especially without any specific purpose or target in mind is like spotting a needle in the dark. I am sure there are so many fellow photographers who will connect with me here. On a personal note, I will add what my arts teacher told me in junior high: 

              "For photography, vision matters more than the camera."

I would still agree with what he said. Buy any brand and just take pictures. The more you take pictures, the more you will learn and eventually develop a style or niche. What matters the most is simply taking pictures. When someone asks me a comparison or versus question, I simply request them to buy a dslr that will motivate them to do photography. It is your dslr camera and it should feel comfortable in your hands. Nobody is going to look down at you if you have Nikon or Canon. I have friends who take stunning shots with Pentax  and Sony cameras too. Do not waste energy on choosing brands. Focus on the amount of money you have and what feels comfortable in your hands. You will enjoy the photography journey much better when you begin with a learner mindset. I still learn new things every single day.

Share if you like:)