Sunday, 1 April 2007

Panning – How To Capture Motion In Your Photographs

One great thing about photography is to capture motion in a still image. There are various ways and ‘panning’ is one of them. This technique will deliver a sharp main subject with a blurred background. This technique is often used for racing cars and motorbikes, but it works as well with bicycles, skateboards …

Background and wheels are blurred, the car is sharp. 100mm, ISO 100, 1/100 sec.
The trick here is that you have to move your camera while you take the image. Let’s start at the beginning.

1) Find a good location

The car above was shot at f=100mm. I was about 70m away and 3 meters above the subject. For most subjects you will need a telephoto lens. E.g. if you have a 28-135 or 70-300 you will fine.

2) Take your time

Besides a good technique, this requires a bit of luck. When you start you will have less than 10% keepers. So shoot a lot when trying this for the first time and also try different shutter speeds …

3) Camera settings

AI Servo (continuous focusing) and continuous shooting (burst mode). Select central focus point only. Set camera to Tv mode and set your shutter speed.
The shutter speed is the tricky part. It needs to fast enough to keep the subject sharp. But slow enough to get the background blurred. There is no fixed rule as it depends on your focal length and the speed you move your camera … which depends on the subject speed and distance. The car above was shot at f=100mm, I would guess it was about 70m away and doing 80 km/hr. On that day I tried shutter speeds between 1/60 and 1/160. 1/60 was too slow, the car was not sharp. 1/100 and faster got good results. Some experimentation is required for your subject speed / distance combination.

4) Technique

Locate a spot where you want to take the image. Turn your body about 45 degrees to the direction from where the car is approaching. Once the subject approaches, look through the viewfinder. Keep the central focus point over the subject and press shutter half way to activate continuous focusing. Follow the subject and keep it under the central focus point by moving your camera. Try to move your camera only horizontally and as smooth / continuously as possible.

Once the subject is close to your chosen spot (but not there yet!), press the shutter through and hold it down, while you still follow the subject with your central fucus point. Release the shutter after the car (or whatever) has passed your reference point. In burst mode you will take about 3-5 shots (within a second) every time a car passes. That way you have the best chance to get the image at your chosen spot.

Try this with a variety of shutter speeds! Also give it at least 10 tries per shutter speed. This technique requires some practise. The number of keepers will improve over time. Also you will develop a feel for suitable shutter speeds depending on your subject.

5) Check the LCD screen - Once

Have a quick look at your image on the LCD screen. You will not be able to tell if your main subject is really sharp, but you will see if the background is blurred.
After you have done that, switch the LCD off (or forget about it). As you shoot in burst mode, you will take many, many shots. Do not check them/ delete them on the screen. Keep shooting. Do the checking / deleting at home on your PC. Will save you lot’s of time.

Ok, now it’s time to find that racecar ;-)))

Thursday, 15 February 2007

Improve Your Photos, Buy A Tripod

… and get the right one first time!

If you want to take more than snapshots with your camera, get a tripod. Any landscape work will become much better and it is the only way to take impressive night scenes.

There are basically two opinions out there:

1) Weld your camera to your tripod and never take it off. Well, yes, you will get much sharper images. Also the fact that the tripod is slowing you down will make you choose/ lock-in a better composition.

2) Forget the tripod. It is limiting your creativity and you will loose too many opportunities/ shots. Many angles/ views you would never consider if your camera were mounted to a tripod.

Of cause the truth lies somewhere in between. Be aware of the facts and use the equipment to your advantage. Below are two photos, one taken with a tripod, one without. Take a guess ;-)

If you want to use the tripod outside, you will need a solid one! Forget the cheap/ tabletop ones. You will end up buying twice. Unfortunately solid means heavy. Solid and lightweight means carbon-fibre, and that means big $$$.

Good tripods get sold in “two parts” – legs and head. The legs determine the stability and hight. The head is used to move/ position the camera and lock it. Ball heads are the most used type for photography.

I bought a package with Bogen / Manfrotto 3001BN Tripod Legs and 486RC2 Compact Ballhead. This combo weighs 2.5 kg (1.7kg legs + 0.8kg head) and can support up to 4.5kg of equipment. It is ok for me to carry around. So I assume that is true for the average built male photographer. The package costs about 200 US$ (Dec 2006).

However, if you want to travel light, you will need to spend much more. Carbon-fire legs (approx. 1kg) plus a magnesium head will weigh approx. 1.5kg in total. It saves you 1kg compared to non-carbon set-up, but will cost you at least 500 US$.

A good place to buy is B&H Photo ( Great reputation, no scams there. Check it out.

Below are two more tripod photo examples.

Twilight city shots are most impressive as the lights and the dark blue sky create a great atmosphere.

Long exposures capture the lights of the cars on the road.

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

Digital SLR Sensor Cleaning – Copperhill Set

If you are using more than one lens on your SLR you will sooner or later experience two issues.

1) Visible dust particles when looking through the viewfinder
2) Dust bunnies (spots) on your photos

Cleaning the inside of a digital SLR is the ‘open-heart surgery’ of photography. You can get it done by a professional service for about 100$. All camera manufacturers recommend to NOT do it yourself. If you scratch the sensor, you will have too carry the repair costs yourself.

On the other hand, it is doable. If you use more than one lens with your camera, you will need to get it cleaned regularly. After a lot of research I decided to get the procedure done myself. The below worked for me, but of cause it’s your own decision and risk.

A few tips upfront
  • Clean your camera in quite room on a clean table. No kids, dogs, cats around. Lots of light, no open windows/ wind.
  • Read the instructions in your camera manual and cleaning equipment ay least twice before you start!

1) Visible dust particles when looking through the viewfinder
These particles do not show up in your photos. The dust is most likely on the focusing screen below your pentaprism and above the mirror box in your camera body.

Ignore it as long as you can. Otherwise use a sensor brush and clean it very very carefully/ gently! I managed to remove two annoying large particles quite quickly.

Once you take the lens off, you will look directly at the mirror. The focusing screen is ‘ above’ (towards the built-in flash). See an illustration here:

Never try to clean the mirror. The mirror is front-silvered and gets scratches easily. Do not touch it. Use a manual blower to blow any dust off. It is does not come off, ignore it!

2) Dust bunnies (spots) on your photos

Dust on your sensor will result in visible spots on your photos. These are more visible in bright areas of the photo. And in photos taken with a large f-stop. Take a photo at f22 from the sky and check the photo. at 100% in Photoshop. Apply auto-level and it will become even more visible. See sample photos below.

To clean the sensor, you must put your DSLR into ‘cleaning mode’. For the Canon 20D this is done via the menu ‘sensor cleaning’. Read your manual! This will lock up the mirror so that you have direct access to the sensor. Once you take off the lens, you are looking directly at the sensor.

Actually your are not touching the sensor itself as there is a glass cover on top of the sensor.

One big warning here: If the power shuts down the mirror will come down and crash into anything what is in it’s way. Make sure you have sufficient battery life. Tape off the memory card compartment, opening it will shut down the 20D! Tape off the battery compartment. Put a stripe of tape over the power switch after you turned the camera on. Make sure you have a roll of scotch tape around and do the above at all times!

There is special equipment available to clean DSLR sensors. I used the Copperhill set. Find the details here.

In Australia you can get it here:

You might also want to read:

Sensor after a year with no cleaning :-(

sky at f22

After swiping the sensor once, the test shot looked like this. 1 spot left.

sky at f22

Take Care!

Monday, 29 January 2007

Make Money With Photography – Sell Your Photos

Yes, if you have talent as a photographer you can make some money - even without being a pro. However, you will not get rich quickly. I do this as a hobby only (next to a full-time job) and was able to make the money for an entry-level DSLR + a nice lens within a year. If you are good, a photoshop wiz, a talented designer, artist or painter - or all of that - you can make much more! It’s fun too!

Before you apply at any microstock agency, please read their forums regarding the application procedure/ requirements. I did not and I got banned for 3 months at Shutterstock. The agency where I make the most money now. And no, they do not tell you anything about getting banned upfront. Better invest a few hours and check out how it works.

Microstock only exists for a few years now. The combination of easy to use digital equipment, affordable prices and the internet made this business model possible. In simple words it works like this:
  • Take a photo
  • Provide a good description and accurate keywords for it
  • Upload it to microstock agency
  • Get it approved by their reviewers (takes about a week)
  • Get a commissions every time a buyer (designer, advertising agency, individual, ..) downloads your photo

Of cause it’s not that simple. Each of these steps has it’s requirements. Photos with people require a model release (=permission for commercial use). Do not upload every snapshot or holiday photo you have, they will get rejected. Check out the “most popular lists” and think about what potential buyers could need.

Please also know that microstock is highly controversial. The agencies pay pennies (cents) to the photographer for each download. But the volume adds up. However, many professional photographers don’t like the fact that their work sells for “almost nothing”. There is an opinion out there that microstock de-values photographic work and is destroying the industry and quality work. Decide for yourself. It has been discussed with passion and all arguments have been exchanged. Just search the popular photography forums for “microstock” (eg at the forum).

Below are the most popular microstock places. In brackets my personal % of earnings
  • Shutterstock (40%)
  • Istock (20%)
  • Dreamstime (20%)
  • Fotolia (10%)
  • BigStock (10%)

I also joined StockXpert recently. They have the most easy upload process!

I have between 300 and 500 photos on each page. You are allowed to submit the same photo to every agency … as long as you do not sign up for an exclusivity agreement.

You will not see much earnings before you reach +100 images online. Build up your portfolio continuously and so will the returns. A general rule of thumb is 2-5 US$ per photo per year (when submitting to multiple sites), depending on subject and quality.

Once you got started, you will have to optimise your workflow. Otherwise uploading and keywording will drive you mad … and steal all your time.

  • Upload via FTP. All sites (except iStock) have FTP upload. You can use a freeware program like SmartFTP Client to upload a batch of photos to multiple sites simultaneously! Just let the upload run over night and your done
  • Use an IPTC editor to keyword your photos. The keywords get stored in the photo file. And the microstock site will read the keywords automatically from your file. That means you need to keyword your photos only once. You can use freeware programs like Exifer or Pixvue. Also Microsoft recently released a similar tool for windows. I use Exifer and that works ok for me.

Microsoft Photo Info Tool:

Recommended Links On Selling Photos Via Microstock

Pls find below my referral link. Pls use them if you want to join any of the microstock agencies as a photo seller or buyer. You do not loose anything and I will get a small bonus. Thanks!

View My Portfolio

Royalty Free Images

Wednesday, 17 January 2007

Crop Digital Photos In Photoshop To Print Proportions

The popular print sizes for photos have different aspect ratios. The aspect ratio is defined by the proportion of the longer length side of the photo to the shorter. I.e. width to hight in landscape format. Aspect ratios of popular print sizes:

Print Size - Aspect Ratio

6x4 - 3:2 (1.5)

- 7:5 (1.4)
- 4:3 (1.3)
- 5:4 (1.25)
- 3:2 (1.5)
- 3:2 (1.5)

Digital cameras produce photos with a 4:3 or 3:2 ratio. E.g. Canon A710ID has a resolution of 3072x2304 pixel (= 4:3 = 1.33) and the Canon 20D has 3504x2336 (= 3:2 = 1.50). If you choose a print size with the same aspect ratio as your camera’s resolution, the entire photo will be printed. If you choose a print size not matching your camera’s resolution, a part of the photo will cropped off.

Better crop your photos yourself before getti
ng prints. That way you can decide yourself which part of the photo you will loose. Select the Crop Tool in Photoshop or Photoshop Elements and enter the width and hight of your print size in the options bar:

Now make the selection in your photo. You will notice that the proportion is constant in relation to the values you have entered. Select the part of the photo you want to print (by moving the selected area) and double-click within the selected area. The photo will be cropped accordingly.


  • Save the cropped photo under a new name, e.g. name_4x3 (File Menu -> Save As command)
  • Do not enter a number in the resolution field of the options bar when entering the print size proportions on the crop tool. That way the image will not be re-sampled during the crop, i.e. the resolution (dots per inch) will not change

Friday, 12 January 2007

Create A Shallow Depth Of Field (DoF) Or Blurred Background In Your Photo

A shallow Depth Of Field describes that only objects within a certain distance (range) are in-focus and appear sharp in the photo. Objects more far away (or closer) will be out-of-focus/ blurred. This effect can be used to emphasise an in-focus (sharp) foreground object or person against a blurred background. Or to create an “artistic” image that draws the attention of the viewer to a certain sharp (in focus) part of the photo. The technique is often used in portrait and macro (eg flowers) photography.

The Depth Of Field is defined as range (in cm or meter) that will be recorded sharp. How shallow (long, wide, deep, large) the depth of field is, depends on

  • Aperture Setting
  • Focal Length
  • Distance to Subject

The rules are
  • The wider your lens opens when taking the photo (=lower f-stop number = larger aperture) the smaller the depth of field will be
  • With greater focal length the depth of field will become smaller
  • With greater subject distance the depth of field will become lager

Of cause there is an exact science behind it and you can calculate the distances based on focal length and aperture. However, I recommend to just try it out and develop a feel for it. But here is the calculator:

Switch the camera to “Av mode” to manual control the aperture (f-stop) on your camera. Take the same scene with the lowest and the highest f-stop number to see the difference. Remember that you will need objects with a different distance to the camera. This will not work when shooting a wall or any flat object ;-) Also “zoom-in” (=long focal length) to increase the effect.

Example below: Look at the label of the middle and last wine bottle. The left wine bottle is approx. 1.5m away from the camera and each bottle – from left to right – about 15cm from each other.

200mm, f5.6

200mm, f11

200mm, f32

Also this effect is harder to achieve with point-and-shoot cameras (= P&S = small compact digitals) due to the technology used. The smaller sensor size compared to SLR cameras creates larger Depth Of Field. Therefore use the maximum optical zoom when trying this out.

The distance between foreground and background is essential. If you want to take a portrait with a blurred background, have a significant distance between the person and the background.

Wednesday, 3 January 2007

Wide-Angle Zoom Lens Selection For Canon 20D – Tamron 11-18mm

I recently bought a super wide-angle zoom lens for my 20D for photos like this. It’s really wide! More samples at the end of the post.

It was not an easy task/ decision:

Crop Body (Digital Rebel/400D, 30D) owners struggled to find super wide-angle lenses, because a 17-40mm lens becomes a 27-64mm (=effective focal length) on a Canon crop body due to the smaller sensor size compared to a full frame sensor camera like the 5D. That’s handy for telephoto (as 200mm becomes 320mm) but not good for wide-angle lenses originally designed for 35mm (full frame) cameras.

The lens manufacturers addressed the issue by designing lenses especially for crop bodies. These lenses are smaller and have less weight than their full frame counterparts. On the other hand, these can be only used on crop bodies, not on full frame cameras.

After scanning the market I short-listed 2 lenses

  • Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM
  • Tamron SP 11-18mm f/4.5-5.6 Di-II LD Aspherical (IF)

Here is the justification

  • I like to travel light. The Tokina (12-24) and Sigma (10-20) products are out of the list for that
  • I do not care (too much) that these lenses do not work on a full frame sensor camera. If I upgrade later, the lens stays with my 20D … on sale or as a backup

It is a pretty tough choice between the two

  • The Canon gets great reviews, the Tamron gets good reviews
  • The focal range of the Canon is much larger
  • The Canon lens is faster (aperture-wise)
  • The Tamron costs 530 US$ (including a lens hood) and the Canon costs 675 US$ (no hood). An original Canon hood will set you back an other 40 US$

I finally bought the Tamron, because

  • The price difference matters for me. If money would not matter, well, I get the Canon
  • I guess that the difference in focal length won’t be relevant for my main applications of this lens. Landscapes and architecture. One review that made the comparison suggested that. But you never know until you try ...
  • Also the lens speed does not really matter for my applications. The majority of times I am between f8 and f16
  • Due to the shorter focal length and slower speed, the Tamron is even smaller and lighter … marginally

Image quality of the Tamron 11-18mm

  • Colours are great, sharpness is good
  • Barrel distortion and chromatic aberrations are noticeable in the corners of the image (see 100% crop sample below)

I really would love to have the Canon - at least for a few days or so - to compare the image quality. Unfortunately I don’t ;-)

Here is an “extreme sample” with 100% crop, no Photoshop manipulation.Purple fringing along the left side white column is clearly visible. It is not that drastic in all photos, but happens quite regular.

More Samples:

In case you consider buying a wide-angle lens for a crop body camera, I recommend reading the following links: