Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Things to check...

Last year I had in terms of birthday terms a significant event. Now I am not a great rejoicer of birthdays, not seeing much point in celebrating 1 less year until my inevitable demise (as you can tell I am a joy to be around at these times), but what I also dread is presents.

The problem is I expect that my dearest and nearest will know what I want, and they almost without fail, fail to deliver. This birthday I was dreading even more, but to my great surprise they pulled through. They paid for me to go on a photography course in deepest Shropshire.

The course run by these guys (Nature Images) was excellent, despite me managing to forget my tripod (this is starting to be a theme) and as a bonus I could spend a whole day just playing with my camera.

The big thing I came away with was that I had been approaching photography the wrong way.

Firstly I had been photographing in JPEG rather than RAW. Basically I did not want the effort of converting the RAW files to JPG each time. But as I found out, RAW gives you far more flexibility in terms of post-processing to get the best out of the photo.

Secondly I generally left the camera on auto. But as the instructor showed, it makes far more sense to move to aperture priority.

Aperture priority allows you to control the 3rd dimension in photography, the depth of field.  Basically if the aperture is wide open you get a very narrow depth of field which is great for photos where you want to blur the background like portraits, while landscapes you generally want a deep depth of field so need a very narrow aperture. He also showed how you could play around with the white balance to change the warmth of the photo (although obviously if shooting in Raw this can be done in post processing)

Just a note here. I can never remember which f stop is wide aperture and which is narrow. Basically the f stop numbering system is counter-intuitive, so basically I remember it by if when you are dialing in your aperture your shutter speed is going up(i.e. getting shorter), your aperture is getting larger(More light, less speed required).

The final lesson was that as a rule you want to shoot in as low a ISO number as possible. Now modern cameras get better and better low light performance, but generally ,even now ,as soon as you go past ISO 800 noise is starting to creep in and if you push it to the max you get a noisy mess.

However if it is a dull day and you want to have a deep depth of field(meaning long shutter times) then sometimes you have no choice but to increase the ISO rating (The same can apply if you want to use the long end of a zoom). But as a general  you want to keep the ISO as low as possible. In auto mode, the camera tends to do this automatically, so you may think you are getting a great photo in low light, but when you get back, there is so much noise it is unusable.

He also showed how even good photos could be tweaked with photoshop to make them even better(I'm sure I'll talk about this in another blog)

I bring this up now because last night I went back to my moonlight job as Dad's taxi. I had to take my daughter to a singing lesson in Whitwick. My choices were sit in a car for an hour, or grab my camera and see if I could find anything to photo (guess which I chose)

Now Whitwick will never beat Venice as the place most people would want to photo, but actually it has a few pockets of almost Derbyshire peak district landscape. Also the light was good, with blue sky and bit of cloud, with the sun was approaching the golden hour, so I found a nice walk and took photos of anything that took my fancy.

This mainly consisted of the plant life. While flowers themselves are not always the most interesting subjects it does allow you to play around with the depth of field. The secret of a good flower shot I think is  to find 1 good specimen and take the photo with a very shallow depth of field.

Anyway after 3/4 hour I had taken a few photos of bluebells and other flowers, I went to change the setting on the camera. It was at this point I realized that I had been shooting the whole time at 3200 ISO! Now the photos were not ruined, but they would not be as sharp as I would like.

The problem came about because again I was in a hurry so did not take 5 minutes to check my camera.

So I have decided to do something about it. I am going to make a checklist which I will attach to the camera. Basically it will say something like this
  1. Check Battery
  2. Check Memory Card
  3. Check File type(Raw)
  4. Check Camera settings (Mode, Aperture etc)
  5. Check White Balance Setting
  6. Check ISO setting
  7. Check Exposure compensation level
What I really need is simple mnemonic to remember. Unfortunately the acronym for this is BMFSWIE which is hardly memorable. If anyone has a better aide de memoir then answers on a postcard.

This was taken with the high ISO. Blown up the noise is very visible

Noise can work for you too. The noise adds to the glow here

My ambition is one day to take a decent photo of swallows. Preferable in flight

Again noise has helped with this hawthorn

ISO much lower, and the background shows it

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