Monday, December 17, 2007

Santa Express on the CTA

Every year, the Chicago Transit Authority (the el) dresses up one of their trains for the holidays, making for a fun photo opportunity if you're in town. Matthew Zdano (aka BrokenBat on Flickr) has captured two great photos: SantaExpress and XmasTrainTrail_1. I wished I had thought of it earlier. There is only one day left to see this train in action: Saturday, December 23 from 2 to 8:45 pm on the Orange and Brown lines. See details here.

Well, maybe other folks have also captured some fun images. Anyone else care to share? And thank you, Matthew Zdano!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Nikon D300 - I Still Want One!

Well, I was in my local camera store, Central Camera, picking up my black and white prints (yes, Kodak still makes Tri-X!), and had to ask about the new Nikon D300. The fellow behind the counter told me that they get maybe 10 in with each shipment, but they have folks waiting for them. They list them for around $1,794.95. He told me that the D200 has come down to around $1,399.95 now. That's pretty good for a camera that started out at $1,700!

So that got me to thinking: is the D300 worth $400 more than the D200? Some of the improvements seemed like they might be 'nice to haves' and not 'need to haves.' I searched for a D200 vs D300 review, and Scott Kelby did a nice hands-on job here. I bought his book on Adobe Photoshop Lightroom (
I've got a link below for if you'd like to check it out) and found the guy seems to know what he's talking about! I like his comparison of the two cameras, because he actually bought the D300, and was able to compare it to the D200 he also owns (not just compare the specifications that anyone can dig up).

Well, to cut to the chase, he says on his blog "the D300 is a much better, more fully featured update to the D200 than I had ever imagined it would be. How much so? Well, needless to say, I’m selling my D200." And later he says "
To me, the D300 doesn’t feel like an upgrade; it feels like a whole new camera from the ground up. The improvements are that significant."

Read the whole article, it's very informative. I've decided it is worth the extra money for the D300. Now I just have to find out where to get this money! I know it seems trivial, but that huge screen (at least compared to my D70) really has me hooked. Scott was also impressed with the utility of the Live View (like adjusting White Balance and seeing the effect in real time). Anyone else out there have any hands-on comparisons for us? If you're fortunate enough to have the money, you can get the camera here from B&H. I've bought camera (and other electronics) both off of their website, and at their retail store in Manhattan, and have always had a good experience.

Update 3/14/08

Phil Askey has just posted his thorough review of the Nikon D300, and said the hardest part of the review was trying to come up with the 'cons' for the camera. See his review here.

Update 3/17/08

Ben Long at Macworld has also posted a glowing review of this camera here. His biggest complaint was that "Nikon’s menuing system is cumbersome and not easy to navigate." But in the end he says "the D300 is a great DSLR" with "excellent image quality, high ISO performance, robust feature set, and sturdy build."

Update 4/5/08

Ken Rockwell has a nice review of the D300 here. He calls it the "world's best amateur camera!"

Friday, December 7, 2007

Is Photography Dead?

Do you think photography is dead? Read the Peter Plagens article in Newsweek, then take the poll above and/or leave comments. I'd like to hear what you think. Here is the comment I posted to the Newsweek article:

Comment: Is photography dead? I don't think so. It is a bit strange to link digital photography and Photoshop to the beginning of the end for photography. For some fields, such as photojournalism, I do agree that photographers must be careful not to modify the image to the point that they are making history rather than reporting it. And I don't care for some works of art that started with a photograph, but with software end up looking more like a cartoon or a Dali painting.
But for any work of art, be it literature, a painting, the cinema, or a photograph: the truth lies both in the eye of the creator and the viewer. We all have our own frame of reference and set of experiences that affect how we interpret the work of art.
With the advances in digital cameras and film, I think the art of photography is accessible to more than it has ever been today. As someone that still loves to load up a roll of Tri-X black and white film in my camera, or on another day take out my digital camera, I feel photography is very much alive. So grab that old film camera out of the closet, or that brand new 12 Megapixel DSLR, and lets go out and takes some photos for all too enjoy! Who's with me?
Michael Watry

Sunday, December 2, 2007

10 Photography Tips

1. For digital cameras, turn the Red Eye off, even if you are using the flash. Instead, remove the red eye later in your photo editing software. I've found that most Red Eye reduction modes on cameras use a pre-flash to help constrict the subjects pupils to minimize red eye (reflection off of the retina (back of the eye)). The problem I've found is that people see the pre-flash, and think you've taken the photo. Then they get caught moving when the flash finally fires and the shutter opens. Even if they know to wait for the final flash, each shot takes much longer than without the pre-flash, and can lead to impatient subjects! Even the most inexpensive software these days has very easy to use tools for removing red eye. It is a little extra work at home (or at the drug store, if using the digital photo kiosks), but I've found I get better pictures this way.

2. Have a back-up camera available (or at the very least treat your camera with care!). I was at DisneyWorld with the family, and had my Nikon D70 (in a camera bag) perched on top of the stroller canopy. Trying to maneuver through the turnstiles, I lifted both the stroller and camera up, and of course the camera fell to the ground. My friends at the Nikon Service in Mount Prospect, IL tell me it will be $269 to fix! I really wish I had brought a backup camera. Actually, I wish I had put the camera bag strap on my shoulder and not lifted the stroller with the camera bag precariously positioned over my head! File that one under 'Common Sense.'

3. Think about your lighting. If you are outdoors, think about using a fill flash for portraits. It can help eliminate shadows under the eyes. If you are indoors, try experimenting bouncing the flash off of a white ceiling or wall. If you are using a digital camera, you will be able to tell immediately what works and what doesn't. If the ceiling or wall are colored, or the ceiling is too high, invest in a cheap diffusor for your flash unit. On my old Vivitar 3700 flash, I used to flip down the wide angle diffusor so that the head-on flash wasn't so harsh. For the Nikon SB-600 flash, I've been either bouncing it off the ceiling or using the STO-FEN Omni-Bounce diffusor with pretty good results. Another popular option is the LumiQuest Pocket Bouncer. Both the Omni-Bounce and the Pocket Bouncer can be had for around $20. Anything you can do to diffuse the light source of your flash so it's not so harsh!

When using a flash, think about the exposure you get from both the ambient light and the flash. If you can, set the camera manually to allow both ambient light and the flash to expose the picture. Or if you aren't using the manual settings, try one of the program modes. The Nikon D70 has a Night Portrait setting that attempts to balance the ambient light with the flash, so you don't have that harsh light on your subject with a totally black background.

4. Invest in filters for your lens(es). If you will be taking color pictures outdoors, a polarizing filter can give you a nice, deep blue sky. It works best if you are at a 90 degree angle from the sun. This type of filter can also remove the reflection from a glass window, allowing the photograph to reveal what's on the other side.

Another useful filter is the graduated neutral density filter. Say you find a beautiful scene with a brightly lit background, but a darker foreground. Often you either have a blown out background, or a foreground that's too dark. Try using a graduated neutral density filter (dark at the top, clear at the bottom), and you can balance the range of brightness so your photograph is properly exposed, both in the foreground and in the background.

Sometimes folks like to have a UV filter on their lens for protection against scratches.

5. Try different angles, viewpoints, portrait versus landscape. You're bound to like one better than the rest, and you'll be glad you tried different ideas. When looking through the viewfinder, try and frame your subject. Look to see where the eye will go when the picture is finished. If there is motion, leave some of the frame open to allow the eye to see where the subject is moving towards.

6. For composition, think about the Rule of Thirds. Think of the picture frame divided with three vertical and three horizontal lines. If you can, try and place the subject at one of the four points where these lines intersect.

7. This is my own personal view, I've talked to many who disagree: use black and white film if you know you are looking for black and white prints. I've talked to friends that would rather take the picture with a digital camera and then remove the color with software. Myself, I like being able to load Tri-X film in my camera and not have to worry about spending time at the computer getting the black and white image I'm looking for. I don't have a darkroom, so I bring my film to the camera store and let them develop and print it for me. What could be easier?!

8. Look beyond the subject. Is there a post that looks like it's coming out of the top of your subject's head? Sometimes by moving just a little to the left or right you can easily avoid this. To further isolate your subject, use a wide aperture (smaller number) and/or a telephoto lens. This will create a narrow depth of field, blurring the background and concentrating attention to your subject.

9. Second guess your camera's meter. Sometimes your camera isn't as smart as you would hope it should be. A lot of meters try to expose for a 18% grey scene. When your scene happens to be about 18% grey, this works out well. But if you are taking photos with a very bright background (bright white sky or snow), your camera may try to expose the shot as 18% grey. Try setting your exposure manually. If it's bright daylight, start out with the 'Sunny 16' rule. Set your aperture to f16 and your shutter speed to 1/Film ASA (or ISO setting on digital camera). If you have 200 speed film, set your shutter speed to 1/250. If you are using a digital camera, check what you have set the ISO setting to and adjust your shutter speed accordingly. If you really want the perfect exposure, try bracketing. Take the photograph using a couple of settings above and below what the meter thinks you should be using. That way one of them should be perfect!

10. Invest in a tripod. This can be beneficial for many different reasons. If you are interested in night photography, this is almost a necessity. But even for scenic landscape photos, or macro photography of flowers, having the camera on a tripod frees you up to adjust the composition, focus and exposure without worrying about holding onto the camera. If your camera doesn't have a cable release, use the self timer to make sure the camera doesn't move for exposures that require the shutter to be open for a while.

Links to other sites (I'll add more as I find them)
Brian Auer has "16 Inspirational Portrait Photography Techniques" here. Browse his site, he has other posts with useful photography tips!
Click here to see 10 Beach Photography tips.
dPS 10 tips for dSLR Users from photographer Thomas Hawk here.