Falls Trace Photography: Blog https://www.fallstracephotography.com/blog en-us (C) Falls Trace Photography 2018 - All Rights Reserved [email protected] (Falls Trace Photography) Mon, 16 Mar 2020 07:26:00 GMT Mon, 16 Mar 2020 07:26:00 GMT https://www.fallstracephotography.com/img/s/v-12/u245532120-o323633329-50.jpg Falls Trace Photography: Blog https://www.fallstracephotography.com/blog 80 120 Lightning Bug: A Bright Idea https://www.fallstracephotography.com/blog/2019/4/lightning-bug-a-bright-idea MK Controls has come up with an incredible device to capture stunning images of lightning.  It’s called, aptly, the Lightning Bug. If this device sounds familiar, you may have heard me talking about it during one of our past Show and Shares or perhaps during our club seminar with Bill Lee several years ago. I have owned mine for several years and it has been a great asset to my shooting arsenal. This small device is about the size of a box of cards and mounts to your camera’s hot shoe. A short included cable attaches the unit to your remote shutter release port. The Lightning Bug utilizes a little-known fact to produce vivid images time after time. Prior to a lightning strike, air in the area of the strike is vaporized giving off a burst of infrared light..  We can’t see it, but the Lightning Bug can.  A sharp rise in the background infrared spectrum of light informs the device that a strike is imminent, activating your camera’s shutter. The Lighting Bug has an adjustable setting which allows you to decrease sensitivity for capturing the most intense bolts hammering the ground or increase sensitivity to capture less intense bolts for awe inspiring cloud shots.  The Lightning Bug also allows you to shoot multiple images capturing consecutive strikes increasing your chances of catching that once in a lifetime image.  Oh, and did I mention that it also works great for fireworks? The Lightning Bug sells for $179 including shipping and is available at the vendors listed on www.mkcontrols.com. Make sure you order the proper one for your camera and have some fun trying something new!

[email protected] (Falls Trace Photography) Bug Lighting Lightning https://www.fallstracephotography.com/blog/2019/4/lightning-bug-a-bright-idea Wed, 03 Apr 2019 06:54:53 GMT
Smartphone Photography Tips: Is it smart to use your phone for photography? https://www.fallstracephotography.com/blog/2018/8/smartphone-photography-tips-is-it-smart-to-use-your-phone-for-photography Small devices can produce big results. I remember my first phone that had a camera feature.  The images were small, grainy, poor in color…in short: pathetic. Until recently, I had never considered a smartphone camera as a “real” camera.  I thought of them as a handy little device for documenting things not for any serious use.  However, with the purchase of my Samsung Galaxy S8+ and the iPhone 7, I am slowly starting to have some respect for these teeny tiny little sensors and accompanying processors.  There have also been great strides in noise reduction technology and display quality making any image taken by one of these marvels of technology at least ten times better than any mobile device I have ever used previously.

On a trip I took this past spring to Glacier National Park in Montana I decided to put my Samsung camera to the test and see what it could do against my Canon EOS 1D Mark IV.  The first big smartphone advantage was definitely the eight-pound weight reduction off the back of my neck.  Other advantages included a much larger display, the ability to see and show my images with that larger screen, being able to have HDR in one take without processing and the ability to shoot 4K video.  There were some obvious drawbacks and these were drastic enough to keep my larger camera for the foreseeable future. The biggest drawback was that I was limited to one fixed lens unless I wanted to degrade the quality of the image by digitally zooming in. Then there was the smaller image size, the lack of aperture adjustment (and thus the loss of depth of field control) and the lack of RAW imaging capability.  Still, I was impressed that an image from a sensor the size of a grain of rice could even begin to compete with my DSLR.  After running my image through Adobe Lightroom, Google Filters (formerly NIK Filters) and resizing/cropping it in Photoshop CC I had an image worthy of competing against one taken with a professional camera system.

I believe that as cell phone technology improves we will see a progressive shift toward these smaller, lightweight alternatives to our tried and true DSLRs.  Don’t get me wrong, we are not there yet but it was only thirteen years ago when I switched from film to digital.  I have never looked back.  With the advent of mirrorless cameras and the continual honing of smartphone technologies, I wonder how long it will be until we will see our impressive yet heavy cameras turn into digital dinosaurs.  In the meantime, I have a few tips for those wishing to experiment with their smartphone cameras.

Steady as she goes:   As in any existing camera system, the less the camera or you move the better the resulting image will be. If possible, brace your camera against a solid object before taking an image.  I have used fence rails, trees, stone walls and even a tombstone to steady my phone before taking a shot.  There are also smaller tripods available.  It is good to note as well that as you push on the screen or button to focus be sure to do it gently so as not to nudge your phone and introduce movement into your image.

Focus on what you’re doing:   Touching the screen on the subject of your image will indicate where you wish your camera to focus, but it does take a moment to do so.  As you steady your smartphone, focus and then allow a second for it to lock on before taking your image.

Maximize your image:   With the reduced size of the sensor in a smartphone camera it is more important than ever to go into your settings and increase the size of your images to the maximum possible pixel or image size.  This way you will be assured of getting the best chance of obtaining an image you will be proud to show off.  Remember that you will probably want to crop that image and that you will want to sharpen and do color adjustments as well.  Because RAW files are not yet widely available for smartphone cameras all images will be reduced in size and saved as Jpegs even before you process them.  Therefore, give your self the advantage of having all the data you can to work with by setting your image size to maximum.

Use HDR:   HDR stands for High Dynamic Range and basically uses multiple images taken at the same time which are identical except for exposure.  These images are then compressed into one composite image with detail in all the tonal ranges from light to dark.  What this all means is that you will have the best possible exposure on your image.  There are times, however, when using HDR is not the best option.  Night time photography, tracking a moving target, taking multiple images while panning or taking images of something that does not have a consistent light level (such as fireworks) do not work well with HDR. In those circumstances, select another mode appropriate to your situation.

Set your white balance to automatic:   As with your larger cameras, white balance is an important part of obtaining that perfect image.  Think of the difference in the way light looks between a moody sunset image and an image of a bright winter snowscape.  The color of the light in an image takes the viewer from seeing just a flat photo to feeling the mood you are trying to convey.  I have experimented with using the Pro mode (the settings adjustment for manual controls) and it does make a noticeable difference in the color of the light in the image, however, I prefer to balance my color in Lightroom or Photoshop during post processing.  I lose a slight amount of image quality because I am processing a Jpeg image but the results definitely outweigh the slight degradation of the image. I tend to get better results when I can see my image on a larger screen.  For that reason, I choose to leave my white balance set to automatic. 

Don’t throw out what you have learned:   The rules for getting a great image for DSLRs or smartphone cameras are basically the same.  Use the rule of thirds (some models even have the option to turn on a grid), watch out for distracting items on your edges and corners, leave room for your subject to walk through the image, etc.  Though I will say that several of the newest Samsung and iPhone models have taken on a slightly different aspect ratio than on previous smartphone models.  This will change some of your image balancing techniques unless you are wanting to crop the image in post processing and plan for this while taking your image. 

No flashing:   Unless you are taking images of someone close up with a bright background behind them, don’t even consider using your flash.  Aside from using the LED on your smartphone as an emergency flashlight the light from your smartphone is at best minimal for photographic purposes and will not help most images.  In fact, it can actually make them look worse.  Using the flash throws off the exposure of your image in a negative way for most images.

To zoom or not to zoom:   Smartphone cameras utilize a fixed lens or even a couple of fixed lenses.  Because of this, the only way to get closer to a subject is move toward your subject or digitally zoom.  Moving toward your subject on the screen is only possible with a fixed sensor if fewer pixels are utilized.  In essence, the camera fools you into thinking you are zooming in on your image when actually you are focusing on a smaller area of the sensor panel.  As your image gets smaller more noise is being introduced.  In other words, it will be a poorer quality image.  For a better result, crop your image during post processing.

Keep things clean:   Just like your DSLR, your attention to keeping your lens clean will keep your images looking as sharp as possible.  For reviewing your image afterwards, you should also keep a lens wipe for your screen.  It is amazing the amount of lint that can gather the number of fingerprint smears that can accumulate on your camera and screen carrying the phone around with you. 

Just read it:   Being a man myself, I realize how difficult it is to admit I cannot just pick up a new device and immediately know how everything works.  I have found out though that there actually is some benefit to listening to instructions, so long as they are not directions from my wife.  Read it and don’t weep…

No light at the end of the photo:   Be watchful of having a bright light, such as the sun, in your image.  The camera will not know what to do with the range of contrast and will more than likely ruin your image.  Also, you might even damage that teeny, tiny grain of rice they call a sensor.

No rear photos:   The front camera on your smartphone always has the largest sensor and therefore the highest resolution.  Use the best camera for the best chance of getting your image and leave the rear facing camera for selfies of you and your favorite super hero.

Take it all in:   I have been impressed with how well my smartphone can take a panoramic image.  There are times when I am out and about and carrying my DSLR is not an option.  I still take my smartphone with me and I have had a blast trying out new settings.  One of these is the panorama setting.  I have taken some fantastic panoramas with my Samsung and I did it all without having to stich any images together in post processing.  True, they are smaller in size but very nice images.  Give it a try!

Move your pictures:   Don’t forget that your smartphone is not only a still camera but also a video camera.  I mention this feature because it has a distinct advantage to documenting habitats, vocalizations and behavior of wildlife to help with identification and further understanding your subject.

If nothing else, I hope you have been inspired to try something new with your smartphone.  You are carrying it around anyway so why not play with it a bit. Have fun with your settings, try getting closer to your subject, get a fresh perspective you may not have been able to get with a larger camera and just have fun!  See you in the field!

[email protected] (Falls Trace Photography) phone Smartphone https://www.fallstracephotography.com/blog/2018/8/smartphone-photography-tips-is-it-smart-to-use-your-phone-for-photography Sun, 05 Aug 2018 05:18:23 GMT
Histogram Basics https://www.fallstracephotography.com/blog/2017/9/histogram-basics  

What is a histogram?

A histogram is graph used in digital photography to help determine exposure information after an image has been taken.  The horizontal side of a histogram is divided into 256 individual columns each of which shows the tonal level of the image.  The vertical side shows the number of pixels involved in that tonal range.  In simple terms, it’s a fancy light meter that shows how much of the image is dark (black or in shadow) on the left and how much of the image is light (white or in the highlights) on the right. Histograms come in a combined channel (luminance) histogram or a three channel RGB (red, green and blue) histogram.  Most cameras, except the professional top of the line ones, use a luminance histogram to give an overall view of exposure levels.  Photoshop and several super high-end cameras offer the RGB histogram which breaks down the exposure information by color so you can see if individual colors are being clipped.  An RGB histogram is the better of the two.

How do I set my camera to show a histogram?

Each camera varies on the histogram options.  On Canon models depressing the info button in review mode will turn on the histogram option or you can set the histogram to appear each time your image shows up for review by setting the right custom function.  For histogram options with other camera manufacturers, see your camera manual.

How do I use a histogram?

Each time you take an image, review the histogram of it on your camera review screen.  The histogram will show you a rectangle with a curved or spiky graph.  Ideally, the histogram should be the shape of a bell curve with the highest point in the center and tapering off to each end of the graph.  If you have a histogram that shows a lot of black at the left side of the graph, your image is underexposed.  You need to either increase your aperture (i.e. – from f-11 to f-8) or increase your exposure time (i.e. – from 1/125 to 1/60).  If you have a graph that shows a lot of black at the right side, your image is overexposed.  You need to either decrease your aperture (i.e. from f-8 to f-11) or decrease your exposure time (i.e. – from 1/60 to 1/125).  A normal histogram might show a smooth curve or a spiky one.  Don’t be too concerned one way or the other (unless you have a very flat histogram) as this does not have much effect on the final exposure.  A flat histogram may mean the image doesn’t have a lot of “punch” and throwing in some additional light with a flash or reflector might produce better results

Something to consider is that your camera can only see the range of tonal values and colors inside the confines of the histogram.  Any time you have a graph that has a great deal of black against the left or right walls, you have lost details in either your shadows or highlights.  This information cannot be retrieved.  It is permanently gone.  You can adjust your histogram in Photoshop by opening a levels box and dragging the arrows left or right, but if the information is not there to adjust due to improper exposure in the first place, the image will still look terrible.  That is one of the key advantages to digital photography.  You will know before you leave the spot you are shooting whether or not you have a properly exposed image.

[email protected] (Falls Trace Photography) basics histogram https://www.fallstracephotography.com/blog/2017/9/histogram-basics Sun, 24 Sep 2017 04:26:20 GMT
Secure Digital - Taking the Mystery Out of the Card Game https://www.fallstracephotography.com/blog/2017/6/secure-digital---taking-the-mystery-out-of-the-card-game Ever wonder what SD card is the best for your camera?  If so, you’re not alone.  In the past, the standard for digital cameras was the Compact Flash also known as the CF card but the improvements in Secure Digital or the SD card’s speed and capacity have instigated a change in the industry.  This article is designed to help you learn a little more about them and what you should know in order to pick the right card for your camera.

History:   First, a few basics about the card itself.  SD cards were first introduced in 1999 as a joint project between SanDisk, Panasonic and Toshiba. The design of the new SD card was in response to poorly performing MMC cards and there is no doubt they changed the digital landscape for the better.  The original SD card was about half the thickness of the current version and much slower.  Over the years since then, the SD card has increased in speed and decreased in cost.  Today each SD card, regardless of speed or capacity, is the same physical size and has the same distinctive cut corner design.  Each card weighs about two grams which is equivalent to the weight of a standard playing card and each card also has a physical switch to allow information stored on the card to be protected from erasure.

It is noteworthy that, regardless of the card type, speed or capacity, the quality of your images will be unaffected by the SD card you choose.  That factor will be determined by your camera specs, lens choice and experience as a photographer.  The main advantage between selecting one SD card over another for your camera will be in the number of pictures you can take and how fast you can take them.

Manual:   When in doubt, check your manual.  I suppose it should go without saying but your first and best method in determining which card type, capacity and speed are right for you lies in the pages of your owner’s manual.  Regardless of what other advice or information I give you in this article, unless you check your manual first you won’t know for certain which cards you should consider.  That leaves you with an expensive trial and error method to determine what cards will work. 

Types:   SD cards come in four standard types or families: SDSC or Secure Digital Standard Capacity (the original SD card), SDHC or Secure Digital High Capacity, SDXC or Secure Digital Extended Capacity, and UHC or Ultra High Capacity.  The only two that matter to most of us will be the SDHC and SDXC card types.  Each of these two types comes in both micro and standard sizes.  Most cameras will utilize the standard size cards while their smaller micro sized cousins are used in devices such as cell phones.

SDHC cards came out in 2006 and can be up to 32 Gb in capacity.  They are twice as fast as the original cards and will work in just about any camera.  SDXC cards came out in 2009 and can be up to 2 Tb in capacity. They are much faster than the SDHC cards and most modern day cameras will have no issue in using them.  Newer UHC cards have come out since but they are geared more toward high quality video systems and most camera systems made prior to 2012 are not compatible with them.

Speed:  The speed of an SD card is measured by its class.  The word “speed” in this instance stands for how fast information can be written to a card or transferred from it and the word “class” refers to a standard guideline for how quickly a card can accept or transfer data. This class is noted on the front of the card by a letter C with a number in the middle of it or by a U with a number in the middle of it for UHS cards.  The numbers in increasing speed order are 0 (or no rating shown), 2, 4, 6 and 10.  UHS-I and UHS-II are newer designations for the latest and fastest class of cards.  Suffice to say, the higher the class number, the faster the card will record images and the higher the price tag.  This means that, at least theoretically, you will be able to shoot more images in a burst because the card can write those images to the card more quickly. (Other factors that will affect this will be your camera buffer size and processor speed.) Generally speaking, go for a Class 10 card.  In a pinch, a Class 6 will work for most cameras shooting single images, not video, but I would not suggest anything slower.  It is very frustrating to miss an image because your card is recording data slower than your camera can take photos.  For myself, I won’t use anything less than a Class 10.

Capacity:   The capacity of a card is really a matter of personal preference.  I use a 32 Gb SDXC card and find it wonderful that I can shoot most trips with just one card in my camera.  This is a great relief for me knowing that I will be less likely to lose a card with all my most recent images on it.  SD cards are rather small and I have actually lost an entire day of shooting because I dropped a card somewhere on a trail.  Another issue that concerns people is the possibility of a card going bad. Some people like to use several smaller cards and swap them out as they fill them to try and avoid this problem.  I have had a card go bad on me so I can vouch this is indeed a possibility.  However, as I usually buy brand name, decent quality cards and because I download my images every night, I opt for not losing a card over focusing on the small chance that a card will stop working.  There are larger cards out there, however I have noticed that as a card gets larger there is a slight decrease in speed so I for that and the sake of cost, I would keep my card size at or below 64 Gb. 

Brand:   On the subject of brand names, stick to cards made by known manufacturer’s such as SanDisk, Lexar or Delkin.  (I especially like SanDisk’s Extreme series which are designed to work well in very cold or hot temperature situations.)  I feel these manufacturers in particular spend a great deal of time and effort to make sure their products are of the highest quality. Quality translates into a reliable card that will have a long life. Don’t sacrifice a card manufacturer’s quality control methods for a few dollars of savings.  This is a gamble that may cost you some images you don’t want to lose. Also, remember to format your cards in your camera before the first use and after downloading any images you have saved to your computer.  If you don’t format your card on a regular basis, over time your card may stop performing as well, may start exhibiting strange behaviors or may stop working all together.

Cost:   You will notice that I have saved this section for last.  Cost used to be an issue but with SD cards becoming more popular the price tag for them has come down significantly and is no longer a true hindrance. My first digital camera was a Canon 10d.  I remember spending $125 each for four 512 Mb cards on sale! That is $500 for an equivalent 2 Gb card now. I would have a hard time finding a 2 Gb card today but if I could I guarantee it would cost less than $10. Times have changed!  You can easily pick up a high-quality card with a minimum of 32 Gb for under $50.  Great sales are going on all the time and I would suggest focusing on the other desired attributes of your card and then checking around for the best price.

SD cards have come a long way since their beginning.  They have turned out to be one of the most useful memory devices in the industry today and have survived long after some of their predecessors have gone the way of the recycle bin.  Hopefully, this article will have helped clear up some of the issues surrounding the selection of a great card for your camera and you can go back to worrying about your next image and not where your camera will store it.  Happy shooting!



[email protected] (Falls Trace Photography) Card Cards SD Secure Digital https://www.fallstracephotography.com/blog/2017/6/secure-digital---taking-the-mystery-out-of-the-card-game Tue, 20 Jun 2017 21:19:25 GMT