Monday, April 5, 2010

How to tag your pictures

You think tagging is just too much work? Please read my post "5 reasons why you should start tagging your images now"

What to tag:
  • names of persons 
  • place
  • prominent colors and shapes
  • everything else you can think of 
A good software for tagging pictures
  • gives you an easy way of tagging multiple pictures at once
  • lets you organize your tags in categories
  • stores the tags inside the picture, not in an external database (this way the tags follow the picture when you copy it)
I personally use Adobe Bridge, and I'm very pleased with it.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Why a superzoom lens DOESN'T makes sense

Pixel Photography just posted a blog post titled Why a Superzoom Lens Makes Sense. There's plenty of good arguments there, but there's also plenty of good reasons not to choose a superzoom lens. 

Lens quality
Sure, a superzoom lens means less to carry around. On a daily basis I carry my Nikon D700, a Sigma 50mm f/1.4, a Nikon 105mm f/2.8G VR Micro and a Nikon 20mm f/2.8D. If I could get these different lenses in one lens, and get the quality I want, nothing would be better.
One of the reasons for buying a dSLR, is that you can get the lenses that perfectly suits you needs. Check out my post "Do I need a digital SLR?". People buy a dSLR because they want something better than their compact camera, and by putting on a superzoom they're only halfway there. If you want to carry as little as possible, buy a Canon PowerShot S90 instead. It's a decent camera.

Zooming makes you lazy
The best tip you can give a new photographer, is move in closer! Take out your camera, and get in peoples faces. I know it's difficult in the beginning, but just get used to it.
And how often does one need  the zoom-range above 50mm (real-life about 75mm-80mm)? Sure enough, a few times during the vacation to Rome, but usually most people use the 18mm-50mm range (I'm partly guessing here).

Low light shooting and depth of field
The superzoom lenses have poorer low-light capabilities than a standard zoom lens. Having a Sigma 18-50mm f/2.8 instead of a Sigma 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 makes a huge difference when shooting indoor.
Many of the superzoom lenses have image stabilizers, and it helps in low-light shooting. But with a larger aperture, it's easier to get that blurred out background that we all love.

Price vs. performance
The Sigma 18-50mm f/2.8 is $419. The Sigma 18-200mm is $400. Both of these lenses are good representatives of the different types of lenses we're talking about here.
On of the best superzoom lenses out there, Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S ED VR II, will put you back more than $700. It's good, but it's still just a superzoom lens.
I think most amateur photographers don't need the superzoom lenses,  and that they'll appreciate quality over quantity.

Disclosure: I'm employed by FotoVideo Norway, which is the main distributor of Sigma in Norway. My use of Sigma lenses as examples in this post is just examples of different types of lenses, and  not a way of pushing Sigma on everyone here.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

How to (possibly) fix your camera

It's not always possible to fix your camera on location, but here are some tricks you can try.

Canon dSLR
ERR 99

This error can mean several things, but usually it indicates a problem with the connection between the camera and the lens.
Try cleaning the contact points inside the camera and on the lens with a rubber band, and it might help.
Check out this site for more information on the ERR 99:
If this doesn't help, you need have it checked at a service location and it's usually covered by warranty.

Nikon dSLR
F-- error

This error is similar to Canon's ERR 99, and indicates an error with the connection between camera and lens. The error can be in the body, on the lens or with both. If cleaning with a rubber band doesn't help, you need to get it checked at a service location. Ususally covered by warranty.

dSLR's using Compact Flash cards
The card slot on your camera has several copper pins in the bottom. If these get bent, the camera can't read from, or write to, the card.
There's not much you can do actually. You can try to straighten the bent pins, but it's not easy. The camera needs a visit to the doctor, where they'll replace the card-reader and possibly the PCB. If you're lucky it's covered by warranty, but since the damage occured when you put in a memory card, it's not always a warranty-case.

Comapct camera (and dSLR's)
Broken LCD

So you dropped your camera, did you? Too bad man. This is never a warranty-case, and unless you have a high-end compact camera, or a dSLR, it will probably be cheaper to buy a new camera. The LCD is easy to break, and expensive to fix.

Water damage, dropping it, etc.
Again, it's only the high-end cameras that are worth repairing. And don't even think about trying the "Uh.. No, I haven't dropped my camera in a pitcher of beer". They'll find out, and you'll end up with having to pay for shipping&handling for a camera that won't be fixed.

"My camera just stopped working"
Please make sure the battery is charged. I've had more than one customer that just needed to have the battery charged. We'll charge it for you, and then make fun of you once you leave.

Must-have items in your camera bag

Friday, April 2, 2010

5 reasons why you should start tagging your images now

OK, so you want to enter a contest with the theme "yellow". You know that you have a great picture with a dominant yellow element, but how do you find it? Do you look through 50.000 pictures trying to find it, or do you just do a search for "yellow"?
Or your friend is getting married, and your're making a slideshow of all his drunken failures. Just do a search for "joe drunk faceplant in stripper lap", and pick from the 251 hits you get. Joe is awesome!

Just because you remember the names of the people in the picture now, doesn't mean that you'll remember then in 50 years.
Not to forget your grandchildren that will find a disk with 100.000 pictures on it, but no way of knowing whose in the pictures. It's a shame!

What is geotagging, you ask? It's a way of storing the location that you shot the picture. It's not the most important form of tagging, but it's funny as *something-really-funny*.
Many cameras today have built-in GPS, and does the job for you. The hardcore photo-geeks manually tags their pictures (e.g. on Flickr or with Google Picasa).

Start now, not later
You should tag your images immediately after transferring them to your computer! Tagging 10.000 images once a year is boring as h**l.

You'll sleep better at night
Knowing that your images are tagged, makes you sleep better at night. Trust me!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

"Do I need a digital SLR?"

I wish I could give you a concise answer to that question. But I'm afraid it's not that easy.

Some reasons for choosing a digital SLR (dSLR):

Focusing speed and frame-rate are higher.
You probably don't need the fastest camera out there. An amateur photographer will never need 7-10 frames per second.

On the other hand, the compact cameras (aka point-and-shoot camera) are still very slow compared to digital SLR's. If you're going to shoot children (with a camera of course), the compact cameras will probably be to slow, and it's difficult to catch the moment. The time it takes for the camera to focus (make the image sharp) is essential when shooting moving objects. What you need are faster focusing and more than one picture per second. 

Bigger lenses = better lenses
Compact camera (and mobile phones) gives you at least 10 mega pixels. But why does the pictures still look like crap?

Pixels are just one part of what makes a digital picture. While all cameras today have more pixels than you'll ever need, many of them are just not sharp enough. By sharpness I mean the ability to capture details. Without details, the picture will look "muddy", no matter how many mega pixels you have.

Usually, larger lenses means sharper lenses. Hence, a compact camera will be sharper than an iPhone, and a dSLR will be sharper than a compact camera.

Larger sensor = less digital noise
Photo: Wikipedia

You know the colored dots you get in your images when shooting in low-light situations without a flash? That's called digital noise. The camera compensates for the lack of light by using a high ISO (very technical), and that gives you digital noise.

In the last years, camera manufactures stuffs more and more pixels into the small sensors in the cameras. As each pixel becomes smaller, it's ability to capture light diminishes. The people thought they needed 10, 15 or 20 mega pixels, and that's what they got. But, as we know, the customers are usually wrong.

The dSLR's today usually have the same amount of mega pixels as a compact camera, but the sensor is larger and so the pixels are larger. And this gives you cleaner looking images in low-light situations.

Manual settings
Manual what? Isn't the green square om my camera what I'm suppose to use?
If you're new to the whole photography thing, you should use the stupid-mode (yes, that's the green square) on your camera. You'll get decent looking images, but that's all.

Get yourself a book, take a class or just find some information on the internets. It doesn't take much to start using the semi-manual modes of your camera, and your images will come to life. I'll try to put up a list of good sites to learn about photography.

Some reasons for NOT choosing a digital SLR:

dSLR's usually costs more than a compact camera. If you want a dSLR with 20x zoom, you'll need at least two lenses.

It's bigger than a compact camera! There's no point in owning a good dSLR, if it stays at home because you're to lazy to bring it with you.
The best camera is the one that you have with you. 
(quote possibly trademarked by Chase Jarvis)

A bigger camera will also be more intrusive. It's harder to hide, and people will usually pose more when you're shooting  with a dSLR. People sometimes jump when I try to discreetly take their picture with my Nikon D700.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Backup - what is it good for?

I get customers all the time that have lost some or all of their pictures due to a "dead computer". "Dead computer" usually mean a crashed disk. A crashed disk means that you've probably lost all of your pictures.

If you come into my store with a crashed disk, I'll probably recommend you to start taking backups of your pictures. But, seeing that you now don't have any pictures left, it's a bit too late. So why not start with the backup-process before the s**t hits the fan?

What you need.
At least an extra HDD (aka disk or hard drive). Even if you in Windows Explorer (or its equal in the Mac-world whatever that is) see several "disks", it's not sure that you have two physical disks in your machine. To survive a disk-crash, the data need to be on a different disk.

If you have a workstation and some mad geek-skills, you can install an extra HDD yourself, e.g. something like this: Western Digital 2 TB Caviar Green SATA. Plenty of space to keep your pictures safe.
But you probably don't have a workstation or mad geek-skills, you probably didn't understand anything in the paragraph above. What you want is an external HDD, e.g. something like this: Western Digital My Book Essential 2 TB USB 2.0. There are plenty of different disks to choose from, and I recommended these because I've always used Western Digital.

What to do
OK, so you got the extra disk. Now, let the fun begin!
The most important thing about a backup solution is that it's automated. If it's not, you'll forget to do backups, and it's worth less than s**t.
I personally use Microsoft SyncToy 2.1 for my backups. It's one of the best piece of software to ever come from Microsoft, and it's free. Yes, I know. It's not often you see the words Microsoft, best and free in the same sentence. And since I'm lazy as hell, check out this tutorial on how to use SyncToy.

Now what? Are my pictures safe?
Well, no.
The level of backup addresses the issues of fire and thieft. If your house burns down, you lose all your pictures.What you need to do, is to store a backup outside of your home. At work or online are the most common.

The "at work" solution is better than nothing, but since it's not automated, it's not the best solution. Keep an extra backup somewhere outside your home, and you're safer.

The best solution for off-site backup (just a fancy name for getting your stuff outside your home), is the internets. The internets are huge, and they have room for all of your pictures. I personally use Jungledisk, which is a front-end for Amazons S3 storage cloud. I know, now I'm just showing off with the fancy words. In short, JungelDisk is a small piece of software that uploads your pictures to the internets. It's not free, not expensive, an totally worth it. The only drawback is that it can take quite some time to upload all your pictures due to slow bandwith. Check it out, and fall in love!

OK. Is it safe now?!?