Macro Photography Tips   Leave a comment

Macro photography opens up a whole new world in terms of viewing a subject from a different perspective. When one encounters the term macro photography, two things come to mind, insects and flowers, or both! Some people find macro shots of insects unappealing but this should not limit them from exploring this new world. Photos of small, everyday items can turn out quite different when shot up close. Here lies an endless source of creative opportunity, not to mention fun factor, for those adventurous enough to give macro photography a try.

What do you need for the shoot?

  • Camera: Thankfully, nowadays it is not that expensive to get into macro photography. Most compact cameras have a macro setting that allows you to take decent to fairly good macro photos. For DSLRs, the options are more varied. Some zoom lenses allow you to take macro shots to a certain extent. However, the best way to go is to use a dedicated macro lens. Macro lenses come with fixed focal lengths, from 50mm to 180mm. Choosing the right focal length depends on how close or how far you want to be from your subject. For example, if you’re shooting insects and don’t want to scare them away, choose a 100mm macro lens.
  • Tripod: The technique for macro photography is to reduce any form of motion blur; camera shake or subject movement. A good tripod that supports your camera’s weight will eliminate the blur from camera shake.
  • Flash: Since macro shots require small apertures, it will consequently require slower shutter speeds. Creative use of the flash will eliminate the motion blur produced by the subject.
  • Patience: Although not a piece of equipment, you will need some patience to shoot in macro.

The Basics

As previously mentioned, it is best to use small apertures to get finer details in a large depth-of-field. Setting the camera on aperture priority or manual should work nicely. The key to getting good macro shots is controlling the depth-of-field and focus. Use manual focus to bring out the fine details of the subject since auto focus tends to be inaccurate in close up shots like these.

Lighting may need to be controlled in macro shots, again due to the small aperture and long shutter speed. You might need to use a flash to supplement the lighting and freeze the subject in place. However, using flash close up tend to overexpose the shot. To avoid this, use flash diffusers, bounce flash, or reflectors to soften the light.

When composing your shot, try different angles. This may open up a different perspective of the subject and give you a better shot. Use a simple background to avoid distracting the viewer from the point of interest. Even though the background might be blurred, a high contrast background will add clutter to your overall image.

I hope the these tips help you get started in exploring the world of macro photography.

Good luck and have fun!

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Posted October 13, 2011 by Alex in Photography

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Hong Kong: A Photographer’s Mecca   Leave a comment

Last year, I had the rare opportunity to spend some time in Hong Kong. In my book, no other place on this planet seems to be designed for photographers. From the airport to the streets of Hong Kong and Kowloon, in the daytime and at night, the entire region is one big photo-op! Okay, perhaps I’m exaggerating a little bit, but for a shutterbug like me, I found that I didn’t have to go very far to find an interesting subject to shoot. If you plan to visit Hong Kong, here’s a few tips from a photographer’s point of view.

Places to Visit

  • Tsim Sha Tsui: Apart from the shopping opportunities here, the famous Hong Kong Central skyline can be viewed across Victoria Harbour. On some nights, a light show plays from both sides of the harbour which gives very good photo opportunities.
  • The Peak of Hong Kong: On the opposite side of Tsim Sha Tsui, The Peak of Hong Kong looks down on Central and across the harbour to Kowloon. The light show is not as grand when viewed from here but a different perspective is still welcome.
  • Hong Kong Central: HK Central is a marvel of modern architecture. There are four buildings among others that stand out: The International Finance Center (IFC 1 and 2), the HSBC corporate headquarters, the Bank of China tower, and the Lippo Centre.
  • Mong Kok: This area is packed with shops, markets and stalls that is a little out of the main tourist areas. An excellent place to experience Kowloon’s street life and to find a good bargain when shopping for, you guessed it, camera equipment!
  • Po Lin Monastery: Home of the Tian Tin Buddha, the world’s tallest outdoor sitting Buddha. Views of the monastery and the surroundings adds to the serenity of this place.

Where to Shop for Camera Gear

Aside from the photo-ops, Hong Kong is primarily known for shopping. Since I mentioned Tsim Sha Tsui (TST) and Mong Kok earlier, it is only reasonable to ask: “Where can I get a good bargain on camera equipment?” One thing I noticed is that bargains are harder to find, thanks to on-line shopping. Having said that, I would recommend shopping in Mong Kok, as opposed to TST.

Before going in, do your research and find out how much you would have pay if you brought this equipment back home. In Mong Kok, you will come across reputable stores that will give you decent bargains, and others that are not so reputable who will give you prices too good to be true. The simplest explanation for the price difference is how the product is obtained. Grey market items cost less and is therefore cheaper, however, once you buy one, you’re on your own without warranty.

With this in mind, there are franchise stores like Broadway and Fortress which you can get equipment slightly less than what you have to pay for at home. Personally, I recommend Wing Shing Photo Supplies, having dealt with them on a couple of occasions and the items I got came with their respective warranties at a decent bargain.

Posted October 13, 2011 by Alex in Photography, Travel

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Exposure: Understanding the Basic Elements of Photography   Leave a comment

When I started out with photography, I had the hardest time grasping the key elements to arrive at the correct exposure. Back then, I only had 24 shots in my camera and I didn’t get to see the results of my shots until after the film had been developed. I felt that one would need serious determination, as well as deep pockets, to advance in photography. With the advent of digital photography, I started to appreciate these key elements and manipulate each one to my own advantage. For those of you who’s just starting to delve into the fascinating world of photography, wondering why some of your pictures are too dark or too bright, please read on.

Proper Exposure

Proper exposure is the technical term of taking a photo with just the right amount of light. It is neither underexposed (too dark) or overexposed (washed out). There are three factors in your camera that will affect exposure and all three are interrelated. These are:

  • ISO Speed
  • Aperture
  • Shutter Speed

The relationship of these three factors is what’s known as the “Exposure Triangle”, each factor is directly affected by the other two. Here is a brief explanation on what these factors are and how they affect each other.

ISO Speed

ISO speed, or simply ISO, is the value which denotes how sensitive the sensor is to light. The higher the number, the more sensitive the sensor is. ISO is affected by the aperture and shutter speed in such as way that a low ISO (less sensitive to light) can be compensated with a larger aperture opening and/or a slower shutter speed.  Note that with digital sensors, higher ISO values produce digital noise in photos.

Aperture

Aperture is the opening in the lens that allows light to come through when a photo is being taken. Its value is denoted by the symbol f/ followed by a number. Take note that the number is inversely correlated to the size of the opening, meaning, smaller numbers indicate larger openings and vice versa. Aperture allows you to control the depth-of-field in a photo. Small aperture openings produce a deeper depth-of-field while large openings have shallower depth-of-field. Aperture is affected by ISO and shutter speed in the following manner; a large aperture opening can be compensated with a fast shutter speed or a lower ISO.

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed denotes how long the aperture is kept open to allow light into the sensor. It is measured in seconds or fractions of seconds. Shutter speed allows you to control the motion blur in a photo. Faster shutter speeds freeze the action while slower shutter speeds tend to blur motion. Shutter speed is affected by aperture and ISO in the following way; slower shutter speeds can be compensated by a large aperture opening or a higher ISO.

The Bucket Analogy

Exposure is best represented by using the analogy of filling a bucket with water from the tap. The size of the bucket represents the ISO, the aperture is represented by the tap, and the shutter speed is represented by how long you keep the tap open. A full bucket of water represents a proper exposure. In order to fill the bucket, you can turn the tap wide open (larger aperture) to fill it up quickly (faster shutter speed), or open the tap slightly (smaller aperture) to fill it up slowly (slower shutter speed).

Knowing how these three factors affect each other allows you to be more creative with your shots. When one factor is constrained, you can use the other two to compensate for it.

Happy shooting!

Posted October 13, 2011 by Alex in Photography

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Fireworks Photography Tips   Leave a comment

Even with today’s advances in camera technology, taking good photos of fireworks display can still be a challenge. However, I find that the reward is well worth the extra effort needed to take these spectacular photos. Fireworks are unique, with no two bursts being identical. Also, it is difficult to exactly predict how the still image will finally turn out, so viewing your shots later often results in pleasant surprises.

So what does it take to get good fireworks photos? Photographers have their own techniques but the basics remain the same. I’d like to share some of the basics and perhaps you can pick up a thing or two for your next shoot. The following tips assume that you’re using an SLR camera.

What do you need for the shoot?

  • Tripod: Stability is the key to good fireworks photos. Use a tripod that will support the weight of your camera, otherwise it might drift and ruin your shots.
  • Cable release or remote: Using one of these not only gives you more stability, it also gives you better control of your shots; increasing the chances that you’ll get the proper timing of your exposures.

What shooting mode to use?

  • Bulb: The best mode to use if it is available on your camera. Bulb mode allows you to manually control when the shutter opens and when it closes.
  • Manual: This mode allows you to set the shutter speed and aperture independently from each other.

What settings to use?

  • ISO: Keep the ISO low to avoid digital noise. ISO denotes how sensitive the sensor or film is to light. Keep in mind that low ISO values have to be compensated with longer shutter speeds or larger aperture. I typically use ISO 100 when shooting fireworks.
  • Aperture: I’ve had the best results using aperture settings between f/8.0 and f/10.0. Remember that smaller aperture settings (larger numbers) give you a greater depth of field, keeping most of the display in focus.
  • Shutter speed: In Bulb mode, you will have to time it manually. On the average, I keep the shutter open between 2 to 5 seconds depending on how bright the burst is. In Manual mode, I normally use 2 to 3 second shutter speed. Since the shutter speed is dialed-in on Manual mode, using a shutter speed longer than 3 seconds limits your chances of getting a good shot.

Plan ahead

  • Get to the site early, preferably with some daylight left. This will allow you to get the proper focal range on the display using landmarks.
  • Try to position yourself upwind since the smoke can hinder your shots later in the program.
  • When using Bulb mode, shorten the time the shutter is kept open to compensate for brighter fireworks. Keep the shutter open longer when the display is not as bright.
  • Take lots of shots. Cameras store the shooting information along with the photos so even if a shot goes bad, you can study the information and see what went wrong.

The techniques outlined above are good starting points to get good fireworks photos. Try to experiment with minor adjustments to the settings and see what works well for you.

Good luck and happy shooting!

Posted October 12, 2011 by Alex in Photography

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Weighing in on Kindle   Leave a comment

Sara Barbour posted in her blog an article entitled, “Kindle vs books: The dead trees society”. In it she expressed her apprehension of using or owning a Kindle, an e-book reader from Amazon. To her, the relatively new device doesn’t seem to fulfill the experience of owning and reading an actual book. I agree with her point that the novelty of owning and keeping a book can be a part of its enjoyment.

However, people will have their own opinion on how much novelty to place on a particular book. In my case, I easily get drawn in by the story that I barely notice physical characteristics of the book itself. This is not to say that I place little value on a book after I put it down. In fact, I still have a substantial collection of fantasy novels gathering dust on the shelves of my old room. Some of the books are early editions of reprints which can still be found today, others are simply out of print.

I have seriously considered Kindle early this year, but like Sara, I haven’t ventured into getting one yet. I came up with the following pros and cons in trying to decide if I should get one or not.

The Pros

  • Portability – books are easily carried around in the form of a Kindle device.
  • Durability – books are immune to damage and weathering.
  • Searchable – some books can be indexed and can be quickly searched for reference.
  • Environment friendly – think of all the trees that can be saved if books are converted to a digital format.

The Cons

  • Power dependence – despite the Kindle’s long battery life, up to 2 months, it is still dependent on power.
  • Migration – the only means of converting a collection of books into digital format is to purchase and download the collection again.
  • Format – there are various formats for e-books, Kindle being just one of them. This lack of standardisation can cause a particular format to be discontinued due to lack of support.

The last drawback mentioned above, reminds me of the VHS – Betamax wars in the 80’s and more recently, the Blu-Ray vs HD-DVD format wars a few years ago. If a particular format becomes an industry standard, I will be more confident that my digital collection can still be read by devices in the next decade or so.

Also, devices, particularly tablets are now able to support multiple e-book formats. This approach will definitely encourage people to give e-books a try.

Posted October 12, 2011 by Alex in Technology

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