Monday, March 4, 2013

5 Little-Known Tricks to Improve your Photography

When it comes to photography, there is a long list of things that one should know of in order to maximize their potential to capture a masterpiece. This is the technical side (the artistic side is a mixture of innate imagination, ability to visualize a scene, but also practice and experience).

And so, when it comes to the technical aspects, you have probably read a lot of advice - usually good. For instance, you might have heard that a general (emphasis on general) rule of thumb is that for hand-held shots your shutter speed should be 1/focal length or faster. So, for a focal length of 40mm, a speed of 1/40 should be enough for a sharp image, right? Well, not exactly! Keep reading, to find out more about this and other four perhaps little-known tricks that can help you with your photography.

1. 1/Focal length rule revisited
Apart from the fact that this rule is only meant as a guideline (some hands are less steady than others), there is one very important difference a lot of beginners ignore. The rule 1/focal length is meant for 35mm equivalent focal length. If you're using a camera with a cropped sensor, you have to take into consideration the crop factor! So, for DX, that would be 1/focal length x 1.5. And so, a focal length of 40mm on a DX camera, suddenly requires 1/60 or faster. And if you're using a (micro)4/3 camera, where the crop factor is x2, you would need 1/80 or faster.

Hand-holding a tele lens requires plenty of shutter speed latitude

2. Maximize your VR latitude with self-timer
I'm proud to say I discovered this myself. When you half-press the shutter button on a camera with a VR lens attached, the VR kicks into action. Pressing it fully, you take the picture. The VR system is great, but wouldn't it be great to maximize its potential even more? A certain amount of hand-shake is introduced the moment you fully press the shutter button to take the photo. How much this amount is depends on your individual technique (some press the shutter button like it's a tender butterfly; others like it's a bug that must be squashed), and whether it's crucial or not depends on the focal length of the lens. Here's a very neat way to remove this amount of hand-shake:
  • Select 2-sec timer on your camera
  • half-press shutter button. VR kicks in
  • fully press shutter button; 2 sec timer begins countdown
  • HALF-depress shutter button, so that your finger remains on the half-press position. Keep it there, so that the VR remains active
  • shutter opens and closes, photo is taken.You can now remove your finger from the button
This is a remarkable way to increase the VR latitude that, based on my personal experimentation, can offer you at least an extra stop, if not two, of latitude. Its only downside, obviously enough, is that it works with static or semi-static subjects, as there is the 2-sec delay.

3. Using an infra-red filter to block the output of a flash
If you have an infra-red filter lying around (even an extremely cheap chinese-made, worth $10), you can use it to control the output of a flash! Imagine a scenario where you want to use your camera's on-board flash (whether the in-built one or an externally attached speedlight) to remotely trigger some other flashes. But you don't want the on-camera flash to be a part of the exposure. Sure, you can tune it down to zero. But there is still some illumination from the pre-flash that has to be emitted in order to fire the remote flashes. In some exposures, especially those where the subject is relatively close to the camera and/or the overall scene is low key, you might want to avoid that altogether. Well, place the infra-red filter over your flash head! Attach it with a bit of blue-tac, or a rubber band (or, if the camera is on a tripod, simply hold it there with your hand). The infra-red filter will block the illumination, but there will be enough IR light passing through to send the signal to the remote flashes.

4.Covering the viewfinder eyepiece to avoid metering errors.
Have you ever noticed when your lens is covered, with a lens cap, and you take your camera out in sufficient light, and it still gives you a metering like 1/5 seconds, or somewhere around that? Well, that's because there's light entering it through the eyepiece! If you take photos with your eye pressed against the eyepiece, as it's supposed to, there's nothing to worry about. But if, for instance, you're taking photos holding the camera high above your shoulders, or low on ground level, it means there's a bit of light leaking into the camera from the viewfinder. Another scenario is when the camera is on a tripod, and you don't hold your eye against the eyepiece while pressing the shutter button. In most conditions this amount is negligibly small. But, if you're shooting in low light, it can still make a great difference. Remember to always cover the eyepiece with your hand, or a card, before metering and pressing the shutter button. And even during daylight, make sure no direct sunlight fall onto the camera from behind - a "rogue" ray of light against the viewfinder will throw your metering off.

5. When shooting in rain or near splashing water, keep your lens dry
Now, this might seem a) like an obvious point; b) a simple maintenance-related advice. But there is actually a very practical, technical aspect to it. Many photographers - especially those sporting high-end bodies that are weather-sealed - shoot in these conditions without worrying too much about their equipment. That is, to an extent, healthy; it's the whole point of a high-end body, to allow you to focus on your photography without worrying too much about the weather. However, there is a very major issue that you need to be aware of: a lens onto which have formed droplets or water streaks, is extremely prone to focus errors. There are few things that are more annoying than a camera hunting for focus back and forth in bright conditions. So, always keep a dry piece of fabric (or several) handy, to wipe your lenses in regular intervals when you are in such conditions that require it.

Click to enlarge, and try to guess why autofocus became useless

Remember, these are only technical points. They are meant to help you get the maximum out of your equipment - camera, lens, or flash. But nothing can substitute composition, vision, and creative imagination!

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