Backing Up Digital Photos

If there is a downside to shooting digital, it has to be the need for a reliable backup system.

I use a 3 terabyte Western Digital MyBook external hard drive

Back up your photos on a regular basis—copy them to another location in case of a hard-drive failure. This has to do with your long-term happiness.

We hear a lot about storage in the “cloud” recently. Storing photos and other files on remote servers sounds great in theory. You don’t have to maintain any hardware; just upload your photos to online services and you’re done.

But are you? I say in “theory,” because one backup really isn’t enough. Multiple backups should be a priority for every photographer.

A hard-drive crash is all that’s needed to erase years of memories.

Nobody backs up diligently enough until they lose their first important file.

I learned the hard way, as so many have, and now preach the good news of regular backup.

It’s not a matter of IF your hard drive will fail; it’s a matter of WHEN.

As a general rule, you should make two copies of your backup.

In case of a disaster, such as a fire, flood, or tornado, it’s best to store you photos in two different locations.

At the end of the day, you need to create a strategy that works for you based on price, need, and ease-of-use.

Your back-up options include:

CDs or DVDs

Since it’s hard to predict the future of technology trends, it is possible that DVDs will become obsolete and your data may be safe but unreadable.

External hard drive

The simplest backup method is to use an external hard drive so all your images are in one location. Choose a hard drive that is big enough to keep all your current and future images, or be prepared to upgrade your drive in the future.

I use a 3 terabyte Western Digital MyBook external hard drive. For big-time storage Western Digital has 6TB of storage available (My Book StudioII) and comes with a hefty price tag.

Data Storage Centers

Carbonite is an excellent easy to use online backup service

Data Storage Centers are the kings of backup. They are typically built in buildings that are safe from fire, earthquake, hurricanes, and tornados. The key point here is that they are off-site backup solutions so that even if your system was destroyed or stolen, your data remains safe.

Once it is set up, backups are automatic. You don’t have to think about it. And you never run out of space. On-line backup services include:

Carbonite, 15-day free trial; $54.95/year unlimited backup

Mozy; $6.95/month unlimited backup

IDrive; 5 GB free; 150 GB of storage space $4.95/month or US$49.50/year

Worth Pondering…

Photography is the power of observation, not the application of technology.

—Ken Rockwell.

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Editing Photos

The tweaking you can do to a digital image is almost endless.

GIMP, a free photo editing program, that does the work of Adobe CS. (Source: monsoonhub.org)

You have many choices when it comes to photo editing software but finding the right one for you is not always easy.

Not every photo editing program is right for everybody. Editing images is a skill. It takes time to learn.

Some programs provide a lot of help. These are great for beginners. But they tend to be light on features and tools.

Using more full-featured programs is like diving into the deep end. These are meant for serious enthusiasts.

I also use Picasa to edit my photos. Try it before putting out money for more complicated photo editing software.

Other photo editing software programs to consider follow:

Paint.net is a FREE image and photo editing program for computers that run Windows. This software performs many basic image editing tasks, works quickly, and mimics the tools and functions that are found in other image editors.

Paint.NET is free image editing and photo manipulation software designed to be used on computers that run Windows. It supports layers, unlimited undo, special effects, and a wide variety of useful and powerful tools. (Source: avaxhome.ws)

It started development as an undergraduate college senior design project mentored by Microsoft, and is currently being maintained by some of the alumni that originally worked on it.

GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is a FREE editing program that is very complex and powerful; and is similar to the full version of Photoshop. But be forewarned—it’s not for beginners.

Photobie is a FREE program that has tools for nearly any editing function you can think of. Photobie is image editing software that combines features amateurs can use with advanced tools professionals will appreciate.

Photobie is free for personal use with no Pro upgrade to pay for—all features are free. You can work with layers for more precision. And it can handle tons of file formats. Also, it has many preset filters. You can tweak images with just a few clicks. And the results look really good.

Purchase your own software such as Adobe Photoshop Elements 10, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4, Adobe Photoshop CS6, or Apple Aperture.

Now, a comment on Adobe Photoshop. Photoshop is considered the gold standard in photo-editing software. It is so well known that Photoshop is often used as a verb.

Photoshop is high-end software aimed at professionals and other advanced photo enthusiasts.

You may be tempted to splurge on it. But, Photoshop is overkill for the average user. In fact, I would discourage most from buying the software.

The learning curve is steep. It is packed with all kinds of fancy features. You can use it to transform a photograph completely. Even some professionals struggle to master it.

That said, Photoshop may be the right program for you. It offers plenty of filters and correction tools. You can also work with layers. Layers let you stack different photos or multiple copies of the same photo. You can apply effects and settings on a layer-by-layer basis.

There are no other programs in the same class as Photoshop. However, GIMP comes close. And, GIMP is free!

The first thing to consider is ease of use.

The new Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 software will not work with Microsoft Windows XP or older 32-bit versions of the Apple OS X operating system. The new software requires a very modern operating system.

Before you pay money for a program, download a trial version. You’ll see exactly what you’re getting before you spend a dime. You can also test ease of use.

Try editing some of your photos. As with any program, there will be a learning curve.

If a program is difficult to use, the features don’t matter much. You’ll become frustrated with the program and won’t use it. Pass on any programs you find too difficult.

If a program seems easy to use, experiment with the features. Color balancing and light correction are essential. These will help you correct problems that are typical to digital photos.

Please Note: This is the thirty-fourth in a series of stories on Digital Photography and RVing

Worth Pondering…

Which of my photographs is my favorite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow.

—Imogen Cunningham

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Organizing Photos: Transfer Images to Computer

Are you in control of your metadata?

Do you know what you have, and can you find it?

Standardize your Workflow

No matter how you determine your file-naming convention (by date, by location, by subject, by keyword, etc.) the system must work for you. (Source: pcmag.com)

Have a plan for how images move from the camera to the computer. Establish an approach and then stick with it.

You can change it at a later date to upgrade to a better or more refined approach, but you’ve got to start somewhere and remain consistent for a while in order to develop a stable platform. It’s the foundation of your organizational system.

Download your photos from your digital camera memory card to your computer’s hard drive.

I connect my digital camera to my computer and hit the download button.

Some prefer to import using a high speed USB card reader. Be aware that all card readers are not the same.

After my images are transferred to my hard drive, I reformat the memory card.

When you open Picasa, you’ll notice that your photos are arranged by folder. You can drag and drop to rearrange your albums and create new albums.

There are as many filing systems as there are photographers. No matter how you determine your file-naming convention (by date, by location, by subject, by keyword, etc.) the system must work for you.

I create my folders by location. My procedure goes as follows:

  • Download my 4GB memory card to my computer using Picasa.
  • Select my folder and name for these images, e.g. BC, Okanagan Valley­_2012_08
  • After an initial run-through of my files, I delete the obvious throwaways and keep the rest.

Tag Photos

You can also tag your photos. Tagging is a concept found in photo management software where you attach descriptive text called tags (e.g. Birds, Hiking, Christmas, RV Parks,) to each photo in your collection.

Worth Pondering…

If I have any ‘message’ worth giving to a beginner it is that there are no short cuts in photography.

—Edward Weston

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Organizing Photos

The Digital Photography and RVing series will now focus on the second of the three steps of digital photography: Organizing and editing photos.

You’ve taken photos with your new digital camera. Now what?

Digital Workflow

Organizing photos using Picasa (Source: systeminsight.co.uk)

You can download your photos to a computer, organize them using a photo management program, and edit them using a photo-editing program.

Photographers refer to this process as digital workflow.

In simple terms “digital photography work-flow” is a systematic process of downloading, organizing, editing, backing-up, and sharing digital photos.

Walking along the path of a beginning digital photographer, I learned much the hard way.

Nikon Transfer is a basic program that allows you to import and manage files from the D90. (Source: steves-digicams.com)

I slowly came to realize that it was necessary to have a systematic work-flow for my digital photo processing.

Slowly, by numerous trials and errors, I’ve found a simplified way that works for me to develop, sort, organize, and archive my digital photo collection.

Select a Photo Management Program

If you shoot just 40 photos a week, you’ll end the year with more than a two thousand digital files—that’s a lot of photos to keep track of without some help!

For one thing, it’s going to be tough to find a specific photo. If you want to view the photo of a roseate spoonbill you took two years ago on South Padre Island in Texas, for example, you’ll have a difficult time finding it.

How can you put those photos into some semblance of order?

The first step in organizing your photos is to select a photo management program.

There are a number of excellent programs that organize, categorize, and keyword your photos so that you can store and locate all your digital files without losing track of them.

One of the most important factors in selecting a photo organization program is ease-of-use.

Which photo management system is right for you?

You have many choices. They include:

Picasa

Picasa is free photo management software from Google that helps you find, organize, edit, and share your photos. Picasa is one of the better photo managers available. Its ever growing popularity can be attributed to its simplicity and ease of use. And did I mention that it’s FREE. Picasa is available as a download for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

You can find out more about Picasa by watching this You-tube video.

Digital photo workflow using Adobe Photoshop (Source: brothersoft.com)

When you install Picasa, it automatically scans your hard drive for images.

Picasa does not store the photos on your computer. When you open Picasa, it simply looks at the folders on your computer and displays the photos it finds. It displays the file types that you tell it to find, in the folders that you tell it to search.

Your original photos are always preserved. When using editing tools in Picasa, your original files are never touched. The photo edits you make are only viewable in Picasa until you decide to save your changes. Even then, Picasa creates a new version of the photo with your edits applied, leaving the original file totally preserved.

Picasa 3.9 is available for download.

Worth Pondering…

Every picture I take is like a diary entry.

—Gilles Peress

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Concluding Photo Tips/Suggestion

Specks of Dust

First of all, let’s clear up one point: Dust on your lens will rarely show up in the photo because you’ll always be focusing much farther than the front element of your lens—the location of the dust.

Ever take a picture and have it look like this? I hope not. This is an extreme case of sensor dust — probably as bad as you’ll ever see. (Source: bergencountycamera.com)

For dust on your lens to be visible as specks in your photo, you’d have to be focusing your lens to an extremely close distance—even closer than what most macro lenses can do. So, any specks of dust you see in your final image most likely were caused by dust on the camera sensor.

Use your camera’s sensor cleaning function. Most D-SLRs have a built-in function that uses ultrasonic vibrations to vibrate dust off the sensor. Sometimes this function is automatic when you turn your camera on and off, but check your camera’s manual to see if it has more options.

Change your lenses carefully. You just can’t escape dust: it’s everywhere outside and yet we still need to change lenses, so it’s important to be very careful and minimize the amount of time your camera is without a mounted lens.

My method for switching camera lenses:

  • Put your camera on a flat surface, so that the lens is pointing straight up
  • Unlock the lens on your camera body, and turn the lens just a little bit so you can let go of the lens and it remains unlocked but is still resting on the camera body
  • Remove the cap on the bottom of the new lens you want on your camera
  • Hold the new lens in your right hand, and twist off the lens on your camera with your left hand
  • Quickly mount the new lens with your right hand and lock it onto the camera
  • Put the cap on the bottom of the old lens

When possible, avoid switching lenses in windy or dusty areas and take advantage of protected areas when you can: Switch your lenses in your RV or toad/tow vehicle.

If you must switch your camera lenses while on the trail, try to do it inside your camera bag, or at least use part of your camera bag to shield your camera and lens from the wind. Also, if it’s especially windy out, then try moving to a less windy spot to switch your lenses.

The basic strategy is to avoid changing your lens in windy conditions, where the most dust is flying around.

How do you switch your lenses?

Have you found another way to switch your lenses that minimizes exposure to dust?

Automatic Exposure Bracketing (AEB)

Automatic Exposure bracketing is the process of automatically bracketing the exposure values by using a setting on the camera and taking several bracketed shots (in contrast to the photographer altering the settings by hand between each shot). (Source: enchantingkerala.org)

Bracketing is the intentional over or under exposure of your image.

When in doubt about the correct exposure, take several “bracketed” shots.

When you select AEB the camera takes one regular shot, then a second shot under exposed/slightly darker (-1 stop) and a third shot over exposed/slightly lighter (+1 stop).

You end up with the three images in a series with exactly the same composition but at different exposures for you to select the most pleasing one after you download them to your computer.

If you have the camera in burst mode (continuous shooting) the three shots will be taken if you hold down the shutter for a burst of three shots.

Check out your manual to see how AEB works on your digital camera. Most will allow you to change the variation between shots by different stops.

Always Have Your Camera Ready

And let’s not forget the most basic rule for shooting great photos: Take your camera with you everywhere you go…and take lots of photos.

You can’t “capture the moment” if you don’t have your camera.

Oh, and Don’t Forget to Take Lots of Photos

Take your camera everywhere you go. (Source: Allen Murabayashi/photoshelter.com)

Once you’ve purchased your camera, digital photography is free. You can shoot as many photos as you want, and you’ll never pay a nickel for film or developing.

Never put off taking a photo because you think you’ll have better light another time. There may not be another time.

Get out there, get moving, and get busy!

The more you shoot, the more you will learn. Try out new ideas and challenge your old ones. Nobody has to see the photos that do not turn out so great. In their book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell theorize that the only real difference between being great at something and being only average at it is practice. Talent often is nothing more than practice and tenacity.

If you ask any professional the secret to great photographic results, one of the first things you’ll hear is, “Shoot a lot.”

The renowned photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson, said, “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.”

Yes, it’s true—you’ll wind up deleting most of them. But shooting a lot increases the odds that, somewhere in that massive pile of photos, there are some true gems.

Above all, shoot, shoot, shoot—lots and lots of photos!

You never know when you’ll catch that once in a lifetime shot!

There’s another life lesson that we’ve heard many times: Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.

Please Note: This is the thirty-first in a series of stories on Digital Photography and RVing

Worth Pondering…

Taking pictures is like panning for gold. You do it again and again, and sometimes you find a nugget.

—Raghubir Singh

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More Photo Tips/Suggestion: Memory Cards & Histograms

In today’s post I discuss the use of memory cards and histograms.

Memory Cards

32GB CompactFlash Memory Card from Lexar Media, a leading global provider of memory products for digital media. (Source: dpreview.com)

Ensure that you always have sufficient memory capacity for your digital camera.

But how do you know how much is enough?

As a quick rule of thumb JPEG files are generally half the size of the sensor capacity. With my 18-MP Canon EOS Rebel T3i camera each JPEG will be about 9 MB. This means a 1GB card will hold about 113 photos.

Since memory cards are now relatively inexpensive, buy more memory capacity than you anticipate needing and ALWAYS carry a spare.

Just like any kind of technology, memory cards can fail. If you just use one giant card, and that card fails, you just lost all your photos! I use a 4MB card and ALWAYS carry a 4MB spare.

Tips for avoiding memory card problems:

  • Format a new memory card as soon as you get it. Even if your memory card came “preformatted,” it’s still a good idea to format the card again with your own camera.
  • Use multiple small cards, instead of one big one. With the huge memory cards available today, it’s tempting to buy one with a large capacity. But, what if your 128GB card fails? Then you just lost thousands of photos!
  • Format your memory card after each download. Formatting your memory cards is sort of like resetting them, and making them fresh again. It will help correct any disk errors that may have occurred during your last shoot.
  • Store your cards in a safe place. It’s important to protect the contacts on your memory cards, because the smallest piece of dust can cause reading/writing problems and ultimately loss of photos. Always store them in their plastic case.

Histogram Display

A Hist-o-what?

A histogram is a graphical representation of the light values of the image. Yeah, I know, that really helps. A histogram display is actually one of the most useful features you can have on a digital camera.

The histogram is a tool that provides instant feedback about an image. Having your camera set to show histograms during the view process will tell you how your image is exposed. The histogram shows, in graph form, the distribution of the tones in an image. You can see at a glance whether portions are blown out or underexposed.

Represented as a graph, a histogram looks like a mountain range. The left side depicts the darkest parts of the photo and the right side depicts the lightest. Anything beyond the left edge is pure black and anything beyond the right edge is pure white—both are outside the range of the image sensor.

Every histogram will be different and there is no right or wrong shape.

Depending on which is more prevalent in your photograph—shadows or highlights—the histogram visually may favor one side or the other. By checking the histogram, I’m able to analyze the amount of dark tones (on the left), bright tones (on the right), and all the mid-tones in between. I like my histograms to stretch 80% to 90% of the way to the right end, but not all the way, to avoid blown-out highlights.

(Source: 500th.net)

The above illustration and following explanation is courtesy 500th.net, website of photographer Martin Joergensen.

Each histogram has been overlaid with a line that indicate its general shape. The middle one shown is a so-called perfect histogram. All tones fall within the edges and we have a fairly even distribution of tones.

Above that is a contrasty image. This has a saddle-shaped curve, and the danger here lies in loss of both dark details and highlights.

Below you will find a dull image with little contrast. That has a narrow curve with few tones.

Histograms shifted too much to the left means dark images and danger of underexposure and loss of dark detail and curves shifted too much to the right is a warning of a light picture with possibly burnt-out highlights.

You have a tool that helps you nail those exposures—use it!

Please Note: This is the thirtieth in a series of stories on Digital Photography and RVing

Worth Pondering…

Photography is like making cheese. It takes a hell of a lot of milk to make a small amount of cheese just like it takes a hell of a lot of photos to get a good one.

—Robert Gillis

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2013 Fall Foliage Forecast

The harvest moon made its appearance last week ushering in the autumnal equinox and the official first day of autumn on September 22.

2013 Fall foliage outlook (Source: AccuWeather.com)
2013 Fall foliage outlook (Source: AccuWeather.com)

This is the time of year where the landscape explodes with vibrant colors of red, yellow, and orange. What a perfect opportunity to camp in your RV and take in the full beauty of Mother Nature!

This year’s most vibrant display of foliage will occur across the mid-Atlantic, according to a recent AccuWeather.com report.

Meanwhile, surrounding regions may be hindered by flooding rain and unseasonable temperatures.

“Most important is really what happens at the end of September and beginning of October into the middle of October,” said Marc Abrams, professor of forest ecology and physiology at Penn State University.

“That’s really the crucial period.”

Abrams began observing how weather conditions affect fall foliage more than 25 years ago.

The AccuWeather.com 2013 Fall Forecast predicts near-normal temperatures and precipitation for the mid-Atlantic region, allowing bright, colorful leaves.

Typical peaks in fall foliage color across the U.S.

Cherohala Skyway National Scenic Byway (North Carolina and Tennessee) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Cherohala Skyway National Scenic Byway (North Carolina and Tennessee) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Meanwhile, those farther north may be somewhat disappointed. The Northeast is forecast to remain warmer than normal this fall.

Through September and October, temperatures will average two to three degrees above normal in upstate New York and New England, said Paul Pastelok Lead Long-Range Forecaster for AccuWeather.com.

Cold isn’t anticipated to return until sometime during November.

“That’s going to be problematic. It’s going to delay the peak coloration, and normally when we have warm falls the peak coloration is not the best,” Abrams said.

“Those cold temperatures are really, really important late September, early October.”

Cold temperatures will not be in short supply for the Midwest, where an early frost/freeze is forecast in October.

A hard freeze while leaves are still green will transition the leaf straight to brown, rather than allowing multiple colors to come out. It may also delay the peak of the season, Abrams said.

A frost, on the other hand, could be beneficial for the region.

“A frost helps to bring out the color. What happens is that the chlorophyll—which causes the green color of leaves—starts to break down. This basically exposes the other pigments like red and orange,” Abrams said.

Leaves in the Southeast will struggle to change color this year, as the region continues to be hammered by flooding rains into the fall.

A deluge will help the leaves stay green. A mild drought in late September and early October would have been more conducive, helping to move the leaves into senescence, Abrams said. Extreme drought can thwart fall colors, however, impacting the leaf size, vigor, and physiology. Much of the western half of the nation continues to be gripped by moderate to exceptional drought, particularly along the Rocky Mountains, the primary color-producing area of the West.

Details

AccuWeather, Inc.

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

AccuWeather, established in 1962, is the World’s Weather Authority.

AccuWeather provides local forecasts for everywhere in the United States and over two million locations worldwide.

They also provide their products and services to more than 175,000 paying customers in media, business, government, and institutions.

AccuWeather headquarters in State College, Pennsylvania, is home to the greatest number of forecast meteorologists in one location anywhere in the world.

AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions, Inc., an AccuWeather company, specializes in weather-risk management consulting and state-of-the-art weather forecasting and services to utility, transportation, manufacturing, educational, and governmental clients throughout the U.S., Canada, and Mexico

Worth Pondering…

Whether the weather be fine,
Whether the weather be not,
Whether the weather be cold,
Whether the weather be hot,
We’ll weather the weather,
Whatever the whether,
Whether we like it or not
—Anon

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More Photo Tips/Suggestion: Filters

A filter is a seemingly simple piece of glass that screws onto your lens in a rotating mount, and has an effect on your image. Filters come in various sizes according to the needs of your specific lens.

Polarizing Filter

Note how the above polarizing filter enhances the color of the sky in contrast with white clouds. (Source: richkoppphotography.com)

There are few more important things a nature photographer can do to improve his or her photography than using a circular polarizing filter.

This is one filter you must have for your landscape photos especially in Red Rock Country. The polarizer is the only filter that I use.

To understand how it works would require a seminar in the physics of light. But using a polarizer is easy; simply screw it on the front of your lens, look through your viewfinder, and rotate it until you see the effect you want, and then shoot.

The way a polarizer works is simple but the results produced can be extraordinary. A polarizing filter removes glare—the distracting light waves that radiate from smooth surfaces like shiny leaves or reflections on water. With the glare eliminated, you capture the true color and texture of the subject.

Polarizing filters also deepen blue skies without altering the color of the clouds. Color saturation is also significantly enhanced. Brilliant red and orange foliage really pops when framed against a deep blue sky.

With the help of a polarizing filter, pale blue skies can become saturated almost to an inky black. (Source: dslrlensauctions.com)

A polarizer doesn’t give the same effect everywhere in the sky. Optimum polarization is when the light source is 90 degrees from the direction you are pointing your camera, i.e. side lit. But when the sun is directly in front or in back of the direction your camera is pointed, it renders virtually no effect at all.

There are two types of polarizing filters—linear and circular.

If you’re shooting with autofocus lenses, you need a circular polarizing filter. Linear polarizers are designed for manual focus lenses only.

In summary, polarizing filters:

  • Darkens a blue sky and brightens white clouds
  • Reduces haze and glare in the atmosphere
  • Reduces reflections from glass, water, rocks, and metal
  • Enhances color saturation
  • Eliminates stray light and glare from reflective surfaces
  • Increases contrast
  • Helps reduce incoming light, when you need longer shutter speeds

Take care to use sky-darkening in moderation; too much saturation can actually make skies look almost black.

However, there is one downside to polarizing filters: you lose approximately two stops of light.

Beware when shooting with a wide-angle lens. Because of the 90-degree rule, a wide angle lens often will show wide variations in the sky.

Since polarizing filters are frequently quite thick, beware of vignetting, the darkening of the corners relative to the centre of the image. Choosing a thin polarizer helps, but the thinner models tend to cost more. The degree of vignetting varies from camera to camera and lens to lens.

I never leave home without my polarizer; actually I leave it on my camera all the time. By never removing the polarizing filter from the lens, I’m always prepared when that great photo opportunity arises. And since I use my standard lens almost exclusively for landscape shots I really don’t have a good reason to remove it.

Filter Manufacturers

When purchasing a polarizing filter you have the choice of a number of quality manufacturers.

The Cokin Creative Filter System has been around for 30 years. Filters fit in a special holder that attaches to the lens via an interchangeable metal ring.

B+W filters are widely recognized for outstanding quality as well as technological innovation.

Tiffen produces professional-quality filters. It takes a lot of know-how to win two Technical Achievement Awards and a Scientific and Engineering Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, as well as an Emmy Award from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. That proficiency is apparent in every Tiffen product.

Polarizing filters are the single most important piece of equipment a photographer needs in his arsenal. This is one filter whose effects cannot be duplicated in any stage or level of post processing. (Source: enchantingkerala.org)

Hoya is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of optical glass, including glass used for camera lenses, eyeglasses, and photographic filters. Their production process involves the introduction of raw elements and chemicals to molten optical glass to produce a filter of uniform coloration.

Singh-Ray calls its polarizers “lighter, brighter,” meaning that they transmit more light than average.

Heliopan filters are made from glass supplied by Schott (wholly owned by Carl Zeiss) and set in black anodized brass rings that screw in with precision. They’re available in every conceivable size and configuration, including 13 different types of polarizers and special-effects filters.

Please Note: This is the twenty-ninth in a series of stories on Digital Photography and RVing

Worth Pondering…

A polarizing filter is the most productive accessory that a photographer can have in his kit, second only to a decent tripod and head. Don’t leave home without one.

—Michael Reichmann

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More Photo Tips/Suggestion: Tripod, Cable Release & Camera Case

In today’s post I discuss the merits of using a quality tripod, use of a cable release, and camera cases.

Use a Tripod

Early morning at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A quality tripod is a basic part of any photographer’s kit.

The tripod is the single most important factor in shooting sharp photos.

Yes, they can be heavy, take up a considerable space, time consuming to set up, and an expensive accessory, but it is difficult to get sharp photos without one—especially when it comes to shooting landscapes. New designs using modern composite materials continue to make tripods lighter—and yes, more expensive.

A camera tripod can make a huge difference in the sharpness and overall quality of photos. It enables you to shoot photos with less light or a greater depth of field and capture fast moving objects in addition to enabling several specialty techniques.

Manfrotto 498RC2 Ball Head gives extra feature to those photographers who love to shoot panoramic shot using horizontal pan. (Source: dailyphotographytips.net)

Look for a tripod that’s convenient to carry around. You don’t need a huge one.

A good tripod really consists of two components—the legs and the head.  Without the legs, you have no stability, and without the head, there’s no way to mount a camera to the legs.

With so many options out there not only in terms of vendors, but also in terms of head types and styles—there’s a lot to choose from. One of the most popular types of heads is the ball-head.

At times when a tripod may be inconvenient or prohibited, consider other alternatives—a monopod or bean bag to rest your camera on, or lean against a wall or other sturdy surface.

Just because you’re able to hold the camera steady enough to take a sharp photo using a given shutter speed, doesn’t necessarily mean that you should not use a tripod. A tripod enables you to choose a more optimal combination of aperture, ISO, and shutter speed. For example, you could use a smaller aperture in order to achieve greater depth of field.

Using a tripod for any kind of photography will always decrease the probability of an out of focus image due to movement or camera shake.

And if you do have an image-stabilized lens, be sure to turn it off when the camera is used on a tripod.

Cable Release

Cable releases are ideal for situations in which the slightest camera shake can ruin an image—and that’s certainly the case with time exposures and macro photography. The simple pressure of your finger on the shutter release can be enough to totally change the perfect composition.

A cable release not only allows you to keep your camera safe and steady during the exposure, but often can make it easier to fire the shutter when the camera is in a tricky position.

With the many smart options available, you can program your cable release to make interval exposures, create long exposures of a precise duration or even make time-lapse videos of seeds sprouting and other macro transformations.

Camera cases

If you’re a serious photography hobbyist who lugs around a couple of lenses and perhaps a spare body, then a camera bag should be one of the must have accessories on top of your list. (Source: nicolodeon.wordpress.com)

You’ll also require some type of case for carrying and protecting your camera, lenses, and other photo equipment. The size and style will depend on the camera and number of lenses and other accessories you own.

Camera bags are available in several different styles, shapes, and sizes.

A small waist pouch may be convenient for a small point-and-shoot camera; but if you’re toting a hefty D-SLR and several lenses, filters, and a spare battery you are probably a good candidate for a shoulder bag or back pack.

Worth Pondering…

If it’s worth taking a picture, it’s worth the time to set up a tripod.

—Freeman Patterso

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More Photo Tips/Suggestion: Manual Modes, Shoot Steady & Raw vs. JPEG

In today’s post I discuss the merits of shooting in a manual mode, the importance of holding your camera steady, and weigh in on the Raw vs. JPEG debate.

Manual Modes

Aperture priority gives you control not only over the exposure but also the depth of field. (Source: photolife.com)

It’s often said that auto exposure is faster than manual exposure. But is it?

After all, you just focus, compose, and shoot and don’t need to concern yourself with the exposure settings.

But, auto exposure can be inaccurate. If well exposed images are important to you, manual exposure really is quicker. There are just too many problems with auto exposure and too many things that can go wrong.

Make the bold move and switch the camera dial from Auto to Aperture Priority or Manual.

Many point-and-shoot cameras now include manual features in which users can control aperture and shutter speed, features that were once limited to D-SLRs.

I shoot over 95 percent of my photos in aperture priority mode (Av setting), which is crucial to control depth of field. However, I monitor my shutter speed especially with bird photography. If necessary, I increase the ISO setting.

Shoot Steady

Use your left hand’s heel to support the camera from underneath. When your right hand presses in the shutter, the camera’s body will move downwards. But once your left hand is in place, camera shake is drastically reduced, and sharper images are obtained. (Source: danny ray pagayon/picturecorrect.com)

A lack of sharpness due to camera shake or blur is a common problem for beginners.

Avoid “camera shake” by holding the camera steady. Holding the camera out in front is the least steady posture for taking a photo.

The best way to hold your camera depends upon the type of digital camera you’re using and the size of lens.

The following technique is used by many advanced photographers:

  • Use your right hand to grip the right hand end of the camera
  • Your forefinger should sit lightly above the shutter release
  • Your other three fingers curling around the front of the camera
  • Your right thumb grips onto the back of the camera
  • Position your left hand under your camera and lens to support its weight

Also, keep in mind that it’s best to gently squeeze the shutter—don’t jab at it.

Raw vs. JPEG: Which is Right for YOU?

Raw files are just the raw sensor data. They must be processed further to become a photo.

JPEG files are processed from raw data within the camera then thrown away since the raw data is no longer needed. The process varies with camera manufacturer and from model to model.

Using raw files takes considerably more time and patience and requires dedicated software such as Photoshop or Lighthouse.

If you love spending considerable time tweaking your images one-by one and shoot a minimal number of shots at a time than raw could be for you.

There is a myth floating in photography cyberspace that raw is a superior format and that only amateurs shoot in JPEG format.

Raw vs. JPEG, the seemingly endless debate. (Source: cameradojo.com)

One’s preference for JPEG or raw depends on what you’re trying to do. Each format has no absolute goodness; it’s all in how appropriate the format is to your particular work at hand. Everyone’s needs vary and I just happen to prefer JPEG. After all, I can do minor tweaking later using Picasa or PicMonkey.

I don’t shoot anything in raw. I have no reason to shoot raw.

I’m satisfied to let the camera and its processing algorithms handle the image, and I’m satisfied with the results I get. I have no motivation to shoot RAW.

Raw is needlessly tedious if you can get the right image to begin with.

Shoot Raw if you enjoy post-processing or feel the subjects you shoot are too complex from a dynamic range perspective and/or the camera cannot capture the scenes you shoot as you see them.

Shoot JPEG if you don’t enjoy post-processing and have your camera set up such that the photos that come straight out of it are to your liking.

If you are strapped for space on your computer, shooting JPEG will allow you to store many more files, and you can also fit more images on each memory card when you’re out shooting.

Should you be using one or the other, or both? That’s your call.

Please Note: This is the twenty-seventh in a series of stories on Digital Photography and RVing

Worth Pondering…

The camera is a wonderful tool, but nine-tenth of people using it are simply button pushers, who let off their cameras as one lets off a firework.

—D.A. Spencer

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