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Photography Walk Newsletter PHOTOGRAPHY FOR THE FUN OF IT! January 20, 2009

Volume 1, Issue 1

Walk #3 -

Shooting Techniques

We will be walking on Tuesday of this week with a repeat on Thursday for those that cannot attend the Tuesday session.

Picture data

Heron at JLS Shutter Speed=1/200sec Lens= 38mm F=10 ISO 100 Not Cropped Flash did not fire

We will begin the discussion of Shooting Techniques. We will discuss and attempt to practice 3 different techniques; 1. Hand Held Shooting

The picture on the left was taken on the Thursday walk.

2. Mechanical Holding Techniques 3. Manual Focusing

Inside this issue:

Please make sure to e-mail which day you will walk or reply to calendar invite

Venue: Jack London Square

Day 1 Day 2

Time: 12—1:00PM Time: 1—2:00PM

Date: 01/27/09 Date: 01/29/09









Photography for the fun of it! PHOTOGRAPHY WALK NEWSLETTER

DEVELOPING A PROPER HANDHOLDING TECHNIQUE You may have wondered how come some of your images look "soft" or blurred. Quite often it is simply due to improper handholding technique. An old rule of thumb -developed from practice for 35mm film photography, before VR technology- says that one can shoot, safely, with shutter speeds around the reciprocal of the focal length of the lens mounted; for 50mm, 1/50 sec; 105mm at 1/125 sec; etc. For digital photography the crop factor has to be taken into account. But unfortunately the statement is not complete, you can do it if with appropriate handholding technique. Such technique aims to provide for a more stable hold when neither a tripod nor a monopod is at hand. Reported disappointments in the forums made me remember how and when I learned: by watching my father and uncles shooting their Nikon F cameras, when I was just a teenager.

"Winged" handholding with lens cap on and hanging strap

As the old rule emerged in the days of the prime (single focal length) lenses, it gets tougher with zooms; but once you learn it, it can also be applied to these lenses.

Arms up in the air do not provide a steady hold. Unused camera strap defies Murphy's Law.

Arms tucked in. Finger on shutter button gently squeezes, as against jerking it.

Shooting in vertical format is no excuse for not tucking the arms in for more steady handholding.

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The right arm will induce rotational motion. Closed left eye could make you loose a moving subject.


Turning the camera around allows for both arms to be tucked in. Gently squeeze the shutter, don't jerk it.

With bigger lenses, tucking in the arms becomes even more critical. Left hand always cradles the lens.

Hot Tips 

Don't hold the camera from its sides. One hand cradles the lens, the other rests on the camera with a finger ready to half depress or trigger the shutter button.

Plant your feet apart for a steady stand, one in front.

If you can lean against a wall or a tree, do it; make a tripod out of your own body.

If you can brace yourself to a post, a fence or a tree, do it.

If you can slow breath, do it. (Inhale, exhale; inhale, exhale halfway, hold, shoot - this is a well proven rifle sniper technique)

If you have to lower yourself, rest on the ground as steady as you can, otherwise the whole tucking-in contortion is useless.

Get a rubber eyecup for the viewfinder. Helps to avoid stray light coming into the pentaprism; comfortable for eyeglass wearers and avoids eyeglasses scratching; but more important, by pressing it against your eye you provide one extra point of contact, therefore additional support.

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At left, a wildlife shot of a Bengal tiger image made with a Nikkormat FS camera, 135mm Steinheil Tele-Quinar f/2.8 lens, on Kodachrome 64 film. f/16, shutter speed 1/60, under "controlled conditions" (at the Fairmont Park Zoo in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). With just a little frequent good practice you will be able to even beat the old rule of thumb with this technique, but the trick is to make it a habit; better yet: a conditioned reflex.

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Tripod Technique Even if you already own, or by now have decided to own, either of the tripod brands and models shown in the “what Tripod FAQ” at the end of this newsletter, they don't work alone. Tripods benefit from all the help you can give them. More so if with a long lens.

beanbag-over-lens trick to add stability


Make certain you have planted well your tripod legs and they won't slip, if spiked the better.

If you don't have to extend any leg sections of the tripod, don't.

Place the palm of your hand on top of the barrel of a long lens and lean on it, pressing hard with the hand above, where the tripod collar is attached.

An alternative is to place a bean bag -as shown above- instead of your hand.

Add weight to your tripod, either by using an apron with rocks or hanging your camera bag from it, especially if there is wind.

Never ever extend the center column -if you are still carrying it- it makes it a monopod over a tripod and very unstable.

Add an eyecup to the camera viewfinder and press it hard against your skull, creating an additional point of contact for added stability.

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Tripod Technique (cont.) FOR VIBRATION REDUCTION: 

Always use a cable release. If your camera can take an electronic one, prefer it over a mechanical.

If you cannot use a cable release, at least use the self-timer.

If your camera has mirror lock up ("MLU") use it by all means.

If your lens has a tripod collar with foot, use it to attach your camera-lens setup instead of from the camera body tripod socket.

If you still have a budget after all of this, get good brand improved tripod collars for your long lenses. Otherwise slide an empty plastic film canister in between the foot of the tripod collar and the lens barrel when feasible (like with the 300mm f/4 AF-S).

For vertical ("portrait") compositions with a lens without rotating tripod collar, get an L bracket.

If you don't have a bean bag or an apron when under the wind, just don't extend the legs of the tripod and lean on the tripod while shooting. All tripods, when un-extended, are at their most stable position.

If you buy a high end tripod like a Gitzo carbon fiber set of legs (G1227, G1228, G1257, G1258, G1327), reduce weight and make it go down almost to ground level by eliminating the center column, adding a Markins ball head, Markins TB20 or TB30 plate for vibration reduction, Markins Titanium spikes for firm grip on soft ground and soft leg wraps.

A not so often mentioned advantage of having a tripod is that with it one can lock a composition for careful study. If there is one element out of place, or something else that should be included in the frame, you can see it and change it. If it looks great but should be polarized or filtered, now you can do it without changing the composition.

And of course, don't forget to have a great time! Page 6

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Monopod Technique If tripods need all the help you can give them to render absolute sharpness in your images, imagine a monopod with a single leg. Let's go down the list of typical recommendations. Note that the camera's viewfinder is at eye level. I only mention this relative position between feet and monopod because I've seen it and its often very wrong - unless that is the normal position of your feet when firmly standing. Any position that is forced away from how you normally stand at ease will result in instability; first physically and later mentally - when you see your blurred pictures.

Normally, feet are open at an angle of 8 to 12째, even when standing at attention. If you also open your legs at ease, even better. Now the balls of your feet and the tripod form a perfect isosceles (two equal sides) triangle. Your legs and the monopod are turned into a tripod. the left hand is exerting some pressure down to prevent slipping. Don't push or pull sideways. Is this the perfect position? If it works for you, that's it. But there are possible tilt movements and position options to accommodate them. Page 7

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Monopod Technique (cont) Some right-handed shooters may find this relative position of legs and monopod more comfortable and stable; however, notice you will need to set the camera at a taller height so none of your legs need to bend. This is where the additional monopod height comes in handy. The camera is tilted back to allow for an angle greater than 90째 between the monopod and the lens axis.

This is the same as above, but for lefthanded shooters. Again, what is wrong is the camera height, forcing me to bend the left leg this time. The use of a ball head permits a side adjustment, not just tilt. I have added this time another important ingredient for successful shooting from a monopod: as in handholding, tuck your elbows into your chest. This prevents side movement.

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In the positions below -shown first for right-handed photographers and then for lefthanded ones- the tripod rests on your upper thigh for additional support. To be more effective, the leg with the tripod behind the heel needs to bend a little. I have never found this to be stable, but it could work for you. You can only use this one if you use a ball head. I could add some other contortions, but let me show you the one I find works best for me. Whenever there is enough room, move the monopod forward. Lean and press down on the top of the lens barrel with your left hand; tuck in your right hand, which is only concerned with gently pressing down the trigger, not holding the camera. Stand where you feel you have achieved a perfectly balanced position. If you have to tilt downwards, leave the monopod where it is, take one small step back and you are ready to again tuck in your arms and shoot. Breath in, exhale half way, hold and gently press the shutter button down. Don't jerk it. Likewise for shooting upwards. One step forward, without moving the monopod from its position, getting as close as possible to it to allow for elbows tucking to prevent side movement.

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Tripod FAQ For most situations, yes, one really needs a tripod; even accepting that at times it is simply not possible to deploy it or take it with us -like in crowded public places. A tripod not only forces one to slow down and check composition, but also sharpness largely depends on rock steady camera support, so it makes no sense to invest in the best film or digital body and good glass -for the maximum resolution and contrast one can afford- and then not plant it firmly. Tighter film grain or least possible digital noise and great depth of field, even today necessarily mean low ISO speeds and small lens apertures, therefore slow shutter speeds. That is one of the main reasons why this very often overlooked accessory is one of the most important tools a serious photographer needs to carry, unless the person is a PJ on the run. Whether you use film or digital cameras, have to use slow shutter speeds or not, big lenses or not, if you are concerned with consistently high-quality results and want to learn how good are your lenses, a good quality tripod is a must. But beware, most tripods don't fall into that category. Many who once bought a tripod soon abandon it because it was the wrong one. Those typically were either too short or too tall, too light or too heavy. I believe it was John Shaw, the splendid nature photographer, author of six field photography books -always photographing from a tripod- who said he got rid of a great deal of potential competition for years, after a consumer guide advised to get the cheapest possible tripod. On that extreme are the lightweight aluminum tripods with integrated head. The slightest breeze or just clicking the camera will make them vibrate, not to mention creeping under the weight of a modest telephoto lens. Sorry, but I've owned too many of those to know that the inexpensive AND lightweight AND sturdy tripod does not exist! Flimsiness or not, steadiness has little to do with braces. Braces just prevent the tripod from spreading its legs wide open, precisely where such wabbly "cheap'os" may finally attain some marginal stability even when never sturdiness. On the other extreme are the very robust tripods, allowing for massive heads. These will stay in your studio or your closet because they are too heavy to carry around into the field. You may say that you only shoot close to home or your car, but Murphy's law has long proven that the best scenics in the world are exactly where it is forbidden to park or there is not a road. How do I know this? Well, because as many before and after me, I have bought a succession of wrong tripods and spent far more than it would have cost me to buy a good one from the start, surely messing up plenty of good photo opportunities which will never return. So, even knowing this is against human nature, I would dare suggest it is possible to do it right and just once ....... or twice at most, but not in a chain of successive frustrating steps

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What To Look For In A Tripod - Or how to choose one Sturdiness. A good tripod should not vibrate when shaken. They are made of good caliber round aluminum or carbon fiber tubing, capable of taking a few bumps without distorting. Magnesium fiber and basalt, allow for less expensive than carbon fiber tripods, but what you save in cost you pay in weight for equivalent load capacity and sturdiness.

Optimizing tripod selection by photographer's height

Height. The ideal is said to be one with a platform at least as high as your eye level with the legs open at their smallest setting angle. The idea behind this recommendation is that in the wilderness, it is too often that one or two legs of the tripod will rest at a level lower than where you are standing, so the tripod feels like it has shrunken. So if you do this often, it is better to have a little extra leg length than not. The above of course is not indispensable because you can always simply bend a little if necessary. Deduct at least 5 inches (13 cm) from your own height (usually the minimum distance from the top of the head to the center of your eyes) to get the eye level height figure. In addition to the above, a typical head will add at least another 4 inches (10 cm) to the height of the tripod support and the camera body another 3 to 5 inches (8 to 13 cm) from its bottom plate to the viewfinder, depending on whether it has a power pack or not and if on horizontal or vertical position. If you are compromising for compactness for hiking, you Page 11

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should take this added tallness into consideration. Also remember that it is not absolutely indispensable to have the viewfinder at exactly the height of your eye; you may often want to check the camera settings on the LCD on top of the camera body, from above. Plus, you really don't want to use the center column to bring your viewfinder to eye level; if you do, you have then successfully converted your tripod into a monopod on top of a tripod.

Leg Spread. Look for tripod legs with independent multiple angle positioning. These work best in uneven terrain and will also let you go low when photographing objects close to the ground like macro on flowers or insects- with added stability.

Center Column Positions. Some like quality tripods with a reversible center column; in theory a close up photo can be taken this way or a very low angle shot achieved. I must tell you I've been unable to position myself in between the legs of the tripod to make this feature useful, but others somehow seem most happy. Others swear by the capability to place the center column horizontally -which makes a Manfrotto tripod to be designated "PRO". But unless with a small camera and lens, I find it difficult to balance. Maybe I should carry a net to place some stones on the extreme opposite to where the camera is fixed. In any event this does not seem essential for me and most models with this feature show some instability. For macro shots I rather use a Nikon PG-2 focusing stage or the Kirk LRP-1 Macro Long Rail Plate and open the tripod legs wide as needed to get low and close.. Page 12

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Manual Focusing There are times when the automatic focusing mechanism on expensive Digital Single Lens Reflex Cameras (DSLR) will not work. Despite DSLRs being at the leading edge of technology, there are situations when it just gets too hard for the computer in the camera and it needs a photographer to take over. On other occasions focusing is a critical part of the creative process and the autofocus system would just get in the way. This might not be highlighted in all the glossy brochures, but there is probably a section in your digital camera's Operating Manual dealing with likely conditions that confuse the autofocus system.

CONFUSING THE AUTOFOCUS SYSTEM Autofocus systems on digital cameras work by sensing the difference in contrast between edges of objects seen through the lens. When there is a sharp change in contrast at the edge of an object it is probably in focus. If the edge of the object is fuzzy and not clearly distinguishable from the surrounding background then it is not in focus and the digital cameras autofocus system will keep searching until it finds a nice clear sharp edge. In brightly lit situations where there is a simple subject whose color makes it stand out from the background, autofocus is a breeze. However, if the light is a bit dim and the subject is similar in color to the background color and has fuzzy edges, then forget it. If your subject has patterns of lines within the autofocus target area there may be too many edges and the system can not decide on one to use. This same principle applies when there are a lot of objects in the focus range.

AUTOFOCUS IN SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY Normally in autofocus mode a digital camera will not allow the shutter to operate until it decides it is in focus. So when that magic moment arrives and the play of the year unfolds in your viewfinder, the digital camera decides it is not quite happy with the focus and delays the shutter until after the critical moment. This possible delay is one of the reasons that sports photographers pre-focus on a spot where they anticipate the action will occur. It is common for sports photographers to use long focal length lenses to get close up shots of the action and to use wide aperture settings to allow fast shutter speeds resulting in shallow depth of field. This can make accurate focusing critical and photographers devote considerable effort to making sure the focus point is where they want it. Think about your sport, this could be around the goal, start or finish lines or corners and turning buoys. When set to continuous autofocus mode, the digital camera will keep a moving object in focus, even though it may be moving closer to or further away from the camera. It is possible to refocus while tracking a moving object but this technique requires skill and lots of practice.

LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHERS - HYPERFOCAL FOCUSING Hyperfocal focusing is an advanced technique in landscape photography for getting as much of the image in focus as possible. The point of focus is set using the distance scales on the focusing ring rather than selecting a particular object. Some street photographers use the hyperfocal technique. One of the advantages of this technique is that it allows opportunistic shooting without having to wait for the autofocus system. With the almost continuous rush of new cameras, the performance in these weak spots is constantly improving. For the prospective new camera buyer this is an area of meaningful performance comparison in an era when even the worst camera is still very good.

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Digital Cameras present photographers with an ever increasing array of Automatic and Semi Automatic shooting modes. Most of these center around different ways of exposing your shots - however many cameras also give options for different focusing modes (auto, continuous focusing for moving subjects and manual). It’s no wonder then that many photographers never make use of their camera and lens’ ability to focus manually. In fact this week I spoke with one DSLR owner recently who hadn’t even noticed the manual/auto focus switch on the side of his lens.

WHEN IS MANUAL FOCUS BETTER THAN AUTO FOCUS? Let me start by saying there is no right or wrong time to use either manual or auto focusing - both can produce great results in almost all circumstances - however there are a few times when you might find it easier to switch to manual focusing:

1. MACRO WORK When doing macro photography I almost exclusively switch to manual focusing. The narrow depth of field in these shots mean that you need to be incredibly precise with focusing and being just a smidgeon out or having your camera choose to focus on the wrong part of your subject can completely ruin a shot. To use it you’ll also probably want to use a tripod to eliminate any movement of the camera which can make focusing either in manual or auto mode frustrating. Manual focusing puts the control completely in your hands when shooting in this very precise setting. Image by maruchan313

2. LOW LIGHT Shooting in dimly lit environments can be difficult for some cameras and lenses when it comes to focusing. You’ll know when your camera is struggling in Auto mode when every time you go to take a shot the lens will whirl from one end of it’s focusing options to the other and back again before deciding on where to focus. This can really lengthen your shooting process and make taking quick candid shots quite frustrating. Switch to manual mode and you can quickly find your focusing point and get the shot you’re after. Image by Jim Skea Page 14

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3. PORTRAITS When shooting portraits focus needs to be precise. The majority of your shots of people will need to have their eyes in perfect focus (although in the example to the left it’s the lips) and so switching to manual focus will give you complete control to enable this to save you from having to line up the focusing points on your camera on the eyes, press halfway down and then frame your shot. Manual focusing in portrait work helps to ensure the viewer of the image is drawn to the part of the face that you want them to notice.

Image by Djof

4. SHOOTING THROUGH GLASS/WIRE FENCES If you’ve ever shot through anything like a window or a mess/wire fence you’ll know how cameras will often get confused on where to focus your shot. Whether it’s shooting out of a plane window, taking a shot of an image at a museum or photographing animals through fences at the zoo - you might find your camera is confused. Manual focusing will avoid this completely and allow you to get things just right - focusing upon the subject behind that glass or fence. If you do this in conjunction with a large aperture (which decreases depth of field) and get in close to the fence or glass you might well eliminate it completely from being noticeable in your shot. Image by Gregory Lee

5. ACTION PHOTOGRAPHY Shooting fast moving subjects (like racing cars, planes, bikes, running animals etc) can be a frustrating experience when shooting with auto focus. Even the continuous focusing modes can get left behind or confusing if you’re not panning with your subject smoothly. One way to overcome this is to switch to manual focusing and pre focus on a point that the subject will move through - and shooting at that point. You need to get your timing just right - but you’ll find that it’ll often give better results than relying upon auto focus modes (particularly if you shoot in continuous shooting/burst mode). I mage by fensterbme Page 15

Photography Walk # 3  

Photography Walk Lesson #3