Tuesday, December 30, 2008


So raise your hand if you have a thousand personal projects you want to get done and not enough time to do them.

hmmm. That many of you huh?

Well I have a few projects of my own I am working on. I am working on building a web site to showcase my work for one. Of course you can see a lot of the pictures I have taken over the years over at my usual Fotki Photo Albums.DSC_0784.jpg But there are some images I have taken over the years that look great, but just don't really fit into an album format like that. One of them is included here as a sampler. When I get the site up and running it will have a few images like these that I have never shown in my other albums. So be sure to drop by.

If you are a regular viewer of my Fotki Albums try not to get too excited though because I really do put most of my stuff up on fotki.

I'm also working on improving Kara's Blog. Not that it looks bad or anything, it just needs some personal touches.

I am always looking for an excuse to come back here and goof off though so by all means use the link to the upper right and send me a question so I can take a break from all of the stuff that I should be doing like home work, and write a blog post here.

See you all around!

Scene Modes

So you look at your camera, and it has a little wheel that lets you choose different modes. Almost all of us have these features, whether we use a point and shoot camera or even some of the entry level DSLR's. The question is, what are these modes really good for? The answer is that with a little study and maybe even a little trial and error, scene modes can help you get the most out of your camera, especially if you have a point and shoot camera. But before we can start to take advantage of our scene modes we need to be able to interpret what they mean. Night Mode seems to be fairly plainly named, and Fireworks Show mode is pretty self explanatory, but why should I use Party/Indoor mode instead of regular automatic mode? Isn't my camera supposed to take good pictures all the time?

My wife has a point and shoot camera that I am going to use as an example quite a lot because, well its nearby. So with that in mind lets look at my wifes scene modes.

Her camera is a Nikon Coolpix 4600, and according to the manual it has the following scene modes.

  • Party/Indoor
  • Beach/Snow
  • Sunset
  • Dusk/Dawn
  • Night Landscape
  • Close Up
  • Museum
  • Fireworks Show
  • Copy
  • Back Light
  • Underwater
  • Panorama Assist

Lets take a look at the description for Party/Indoor mode and see what we can figure out from the description.

The manual describes it like this with the included image:

Use for shots that include details of the background, or to capture the effects of candlelight and other indoor background lighting.

What can we tell from this picture and description? Well it looks to me like the camera is going to leave the shutter open longer after the flash fires to try and gather background light. I would also guess that its going to turn up the ISO even though you are using the flash to try and gather the light faster. If you weren't using this mode, the camera would take a picture of the woman, and then stop. There would simply be a black background. Roll your mouse over the image to see what that picture might look like if it had been taken in normal automatic mode.

Lets take a look now at the Night Landscape and Fireworks Show modes. These two modes look like they could be pretty similar. Lets look at the descriptions for them.

First Night Landscape mode:

A slow shutter speed is used to produce stunning night land-scapes. Focus is fixed at infinity.
The manual recommends that you use a tripod with this mode, and pay special attention to that part about focus being fixed at infinity, its important.

Now the description for Fireworks Show mode:

Slow shutter speeds are used to capture the expanding burst of light from a firework. The camera responds more rapidly to the shutter-release button, ensuring that you can capture the start of the burst.
  • Focus is fixed at infinity.
  • Follow the firework as it ascends and press the shutter-release button all the way down at the start of the burst.

These two modes look like they could be similar. So lets compare a couple images and see what the differences are.

First up we have the Night Landscape mode image. This was taken off of my apartments balcony at night. In normal automatic mode the flash would have fired and lit up the wires that you can barely see in the image. Once the wires were exposed the camera would have stopped you would have seen nothing of the background, which in this case was the whole point of the shot. Using a night mode like this was the only way to get this shot with this camera.

Remember too that in the night modes the focus is fixed at infinity. If it weren't it's most likely that the camera would not have been able to find anything to focus on at all since night scenes are too dark for the camera to focus in. Lets move on now to the Fireworks Show mode.

FireWorks.pngThe image at right was taken with the Fireworks Show mode. The difference is subtle at this size but take a look at the aperture and exposure time. The 5.7 aperture is going to give you a sharper picture which will look better showing the fine lines of fireworks. The ISO was also left lower because fireworks are probably going to be bright against a night sky background.Notice that overall the picture is darker than the first one. Night Landscape mode is trying to pick up buildings and things like that, while Fireworks Show mode is assuming a night sky background that will look much better nice and dark.

So what should we take away from these examples? Well for all of you point and shoot users out there, the point of this post is drive home the importance of using your scene modes with your camera.

Point and shot cameras usually do not allow the fine level of control that DSLR camera's allow, and these scene modes are an important way to take back control over your pictures. Your camera is not a mind reader, it relies on you to tell it what to do. Using scene modes you can tell your camera what you expect it to do. Otherwise it has no idea that you want it to gather background light, or that you want it to focus at infinity despite the fact that it can't find anything to focus on because it's too dark outside.

Armed with this new knowledge, I encourage you to break out your manual and read about the modes that your camera offers, and then go out and experiment!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Back in a Jiffy!

Back-In-A-Jiffy.pngWell, maybe not in a jiffy, but soon here.

There have been a lot of things going on lately, but my poor blog has not been forgotten. The long awaited post on scene modes is coming up, along with a planned post on why getting a tripod can be one of the absolute best investments you can make to improve your photography.

Until then have a look at this web site that goes over some of the basics of scene modes, just to get you in the mood.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


So you read all about ISO, Aperture, and Shutter Speed. Good, now here's what you probably need to do now, and I know this is going to sound odd. Go back to the beginning and read them all again. Why?

If there is even the slightest fuzziness in your mind over how the three factors affect each other then further study and reading might be needed.

Ask yourself these questions.

If I move my ISO from 200 to 800, what happens to my shutter speed? What happens to the quality of my photograph?

If I change my Aperture from 5.6 to 2.8 what will happen to my shutter speed? What if my shutter speed is still too low to get a sharp picture? Should I do some thing about my ISO, and if so, what?

I am trying to photograph a football game, my shutter is at 1/60 of a second and everyone running is blurry, what should I do to my shutter speed? What might I need to do to my Aperture to achieve this? Might I need to change my ISO too? If so should it be higher or lower?

Those are some of the kinds of questions that illustrate the interrelationship of those three factors. If you don't know how to answer those questions, then reading the others again might help. Reading the ISO post will probably be much more enlightening knowing what you do now about Aperture and Shutter Speed. The same goes for the other two. You might find a few light bulbs turning on.

If my explanations aren't quite doing it, and don't worry my ego won't be too badly bruised, you might try some of these web sites for a fresh point of view on things.

ISO, A discussion of ISO

Keep in mind that when I explained Aperture I deliberately left out things like why Aperture is numbered the way it is and depth of field for simplicity's sake. Those things aren't what is essential to the interrelationship of the three factors and can be discussed at a later time.

Aperture, Another Aperture

Shutter Speed

Don't be put off by the title of the blog, this is a good link to another explanation of all three.

All Three

The thing to keep in mind is that just like your coach, or your math teacher or any one of them might tell you, the basics, the fundamentals, are crucial to being able to genuinely understand the rest of it.

So make sure to understand what we've talked about, and come back for the next post about Point and Shoot camera modes.

We'll learn to decipher what your camera's manual is really talking about when it describes portrait mode and fireworks mode and all of that, and use that knowledge to get the most out of your camera.

For you DSLR users, many of you have some of the same modes, I know my D50 does, but it also has modes like Shutter and Aperture priority, that make knowing these fundamentals, if anything, even more important.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Good Podcast

Dan Benjamin and James Duncan Davidson, a famous Mac nerd and a professional photographer respectively, have started a new Podcast called Tack Sharp.

Just to give a feel for the kinds of things these guys are talking about, episode one was Nikon vs Canon, Primes vs Zooms, and White Balance. Episode two was all about crop factor.

The show is very new so they are just feeling out the flow for how the show should run and it means everything is very informal and easy to listen to. And as a bonus you can post to their Google Groups page and usually get a reply from James Davidson and probably some input from the other users too.

Its shaping up to be a good show so be sure and start listening now so when they get rich and famous you can tell your friends that you heard about them first.