No serious photographer would consider using an entry-level DSLR as a go-to camera. This is not because showing up to a paid gig with a bottom-range camera would be "embarrassing," like some people maintain. It's because low-end cameras lack certain capabilities that make a real difference in some situations, particularly when shooting action, such as a dolphin show at Churaumi Aquarium in Okinawa, Japan.
The limited functionality of one low-end camera became abundantly clear on my day trip to Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium with my wife. I took my Canon 100D and a camera bag full of lenses, hoping I'd have the chance to snag some decent pics. No clients paid me to take pictures and I have no intention of selling what I shot. However, I always like to shoot pics for my website, which is what I show people in the hopes of convincing them I'm a good photographer, so it pays to bring the best gear possible on such outings. The 100D is the best camera I can afford right now, so it had to do... and it performed admirably by the standards of a $350 body. Yet, I found myself frustrated in a couple of ways. You might not sense that by looking at some of the pics, which turned out not too bad, but what you can't see are the pictures I wanted and couldn't get (at least not without extremely good luck).
The first shortcoming was burst speed. Shooting a dolphin show is a lot like shooting sports. You wait for something to happen and when it does, you have to react quickly. You press the button, hold it down and let the camera snap as many pics as it can automatically. The 100D will do 4 frames per second. Not too shabby for a $350 camera body, but the Canon 1Dx will do 12. That means, for example, that if a 1x shooter presses the shutter button just as a dolphin exits the water and he holds it down for exactly the one second the dolphin is out of the water, he'll end up with 12 shots to choose from. The 100D shooter will have four. That's eight frames the 100D shooter is missing. It's statistically likely that the "perfect" shot - the one the client selects for her international advertising campaign - is going to be one of the missing eight rather than the four you nailed. That said, the 100D got me the shot below, which is not half bad at all. Is it worth paying 20 times the price for the 1Dx? If you're an enthusiast who doesn't make his living shooting action (or a pro who shoots mostly static subjects), no way. If you're a busy, working, well paid pro shooting on contract, emphatically yes!
The second peve with my cheap camera is buffering capacity and write speed. This is partially an SD card issue, but without doubt, better buffering on camera side would have made my life easier. More than a few times, I held the shutter button, got 8 or 10 photos, then tried to capture more, only to find that nothing happened when I pressed the button again. That's right. There I was pressing the shutter button as all kinds of amazing stuff was going on and the camera screamed at me "Hold your horses, would ya!" I missed a whole lot of action I would have caught with a camera with faster write speed and better buffering capacity.. The only reason I caught the shot below is that the dolphin held the pose for a long enough time.
The third issue is noise at higher ISO speeds. The shot of the bull shark below was taken at ISO 3,200, which on a 1Dx, or even a 5D III would not have produced a lot of noise in relative terms. The 100D did very well for a $350 body, but was noticeably grainy. A camera with better low-light capabilities would have produced a cleaner image even at ISO 6,400 or even 12,800, giving me another two stops to play with and letting me take my shutter speed up to a reasonable 320 or so. As it was, in order to avoid noise, I had to deal with camera shake, a trade-off that a (much) higher-end camera would have eliminated. The pixilation you see in this shot has more to do with web compression than camera noise, but the noise didn't help any.
If all you want to do with your photos is put them on the web and share them with your friends, an inexpensive DSLR like my Canon 100D is the way to go. If you're a pro whose time and reputation are valuable enough to justify the expense, you need tools that can keep up with you.
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I find a lot of photographers shoot panoramas just for the sake of it. Personally, if I can capture a scene on a single frame, I generally will. However, there are times when you just can't fit everything into one shot, and that's when to take a panorama.
This shot, taken over Chatan Okinawa, is an amalgamation of six separate photos, all taken with the camera vertical on a tripod, one after the other. I could get most of this into a single exposure with a wide lens (something like an 18mm in full frame terms), but wide lenses create a lot of distortion in the image and they tend to push the background way back in the picture. These can create awesome photographic effects when you want them (many of my landscape shots are taken on wide lenses), but for this photo, I wanted as much compression as I could get. So, I used my 50mm f/1.8 Canon prime and lined up the individual shots that I would later stitch together in Lightroom. This was the result.
Hooray for software that makes stitching photos together so easy. The trick is to have just enough overlap that the software can easily match up the edges. It also helps to shoot on the same stop with the same focal setting and, ideally, the same ISO. These were 20 second exposures taken in quick sequence close to dusk. Given how quickly the remaining light was fading, I'm a bit surprised that they blended so well.
The next panorama I'm going to feature here is a shot of Tomari port n Naha City, I could have taken a very nice shot in one frame, but I'd have lost some of the water and some of the sky. This was taken at the highest point of a bridge, handheld, leaning over the side. There was no way I could have shot on a tripod and, even if there was, it would have done no good since the bridge was bouncing due to heavy truck and bus traffic. It is a three shot composite, encompassing the entire field of view available from that side of the bridge (180 degrees). I shot this with the camera vertical using a 14mm lens (on an APS-C sensor this is about 22 in full-frame equivalent) to make the water as prominent as possible. A longer lens would have created too much camera shake and I would have had to shoot on a much higher ISO. Here is the result.
The distortion produced by the lens is visible, far more than it would be in a non-panorama shot, but in this case, I didn't mind, because it brought the water to the foreground. To the eye, this looks like a standard photo, not the 180 degree panorama it really is, That's what panoramas are to me, composites that transport the viewer right into the frame as if they were really there.
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Pretty well anyone who views digital photos nowadays understands just how powerful a program Adobe Photoshop is. In the hands of a person who knows how to use it, the software can dramatically transform a photo. In fact, the transformation can be so dramatic that one has to wonder how much of professional photography revolves around how well one can develop photos using this or similar technology. I would go so far as to say that post-processing is close to 50% of the finished product.
I am hardly a master at Photoshop. To see a true master at work, visit the Youtube Channel of Phlearn and watch Aaron Nace transform good photos into outstanding photos. I've learned a few tricks from his tutorials and a few others. I'd be happy to share what I've learned, but you'd be far better just to get it from the horse's mouth, as it were. Instead, I intend to show you how I used Photoshop (and Lightroom) to transform a commercial photo I took from rather dreary to quite beautiful. I'll start with the before picture.
This was late in the day, shooting into a cloudy sunset. To the eye, the sky was really quite striking in a subtle way, but the gentle beauty of the sun on the clouds just didn't make its way onto the sensor. This is because the contrast was just too high. I tried to expose for the sky, but to bring out the subtleties, I would have had to grossly underexpose the subject, namely Cheers Bar&Grill, which is what the shot is all about. So, I decided to use brushes in Lightroom to paint in the sky.
That made a difference, but it was just the beginning. I did all the standard processing in Lightroom, straightening the vertical lines, bringing out all the colors, enhancing the highlights and just making everything "pop," but the photo wasn't what I'd want to show my client. Before that, I had to fix a couple of things in Photoshop. First, I used the clone stamp tool and the healing brush to remove the security camera, then painted in the clouds where it was. Note that I didn't remove the utility box on the post the camera was attached to. I could have. If this photo were about the streetlamp, I might have, but I didn't, because I thought the very tiny imperfection gave it a bit of authenticity. Finally, I painted in the frosting on the glass of the foremost lamp, and enhanced the brightness of the lights, to give the effect you see in the finished photo
The effect I wanted was that of a building pained by the sun at the tail end of Golden Hour, just as the street lights were coming on. The natural highlights in the palm leaves sell the presence of the sun and the enhanced brightness of the lamps suggest that twilight is slowly approaching.
Is this cheating? Yes. But cheating in post-processing is what photographers have done since the first camera was invented. How much of the beauty of this shot was added in post? Like I said, better than 50%. The original, even after Lightroom, is not something I'd put in a portfolio, much less submit to a client. But the finished result, after Photoshop, is something I can be proud to put my name on. Photoshop doesn't help a photographer frame an image (except via cropping), it doesn't choose what lens to use, it doesn't tell you what stop to shoot on or what ISO setting. It doesn't select which of the dozens of photos you take of a subject to work on and it doesn't know how to process them. All it gives the photographer is a digital toolbox, which, like a carpenter's toolbox doesn't finish the job all on it's own. Artistry is in the mind and the hands of the artist.
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My simple blog about the art and science of photography.