Category Archives: Tips

Nik plugins 15 percent off coupon code

I’m a huge fan of the Nik Collection of plugins — I especially like Color Efex Pro, Silver Efex Pro and HDR Efex Pro.

The other day Kat wanted to buy a copy as a gift for someone and I knew that there must be a coupon code for the collection out there somewhere. After a lot of trial and error I finally found a coupon code that gave a whopping 15% off the price of the plugins. Give that I’d had such a hard time finding a working code I thought I’d share it here:



Tips for photographing bioluminescent plankton

The other night I got to witness bioluminescent plankton doing its stuff. It truly was an amazing sight. It turned waves and ripples into a shimmering electric blue, and if you looked closely at the rocks or the shore, you could see tiny sapphire pinpricks glowing away.

It was amazing.

But it was also challenging to photograph.

I do a lot of night photography so I knew I’d need a wide aperture (I went for F2.8), a show shutter speed (I was working between 8 seconds and 20 seconds) and an ISO high enough to catch the plankton glow but low enough not to give me noise problems (the Canon 5D MkIII was happy at around 3200 to 4000 ISO).

However, trouble came when it came to focusing. Normally I shoot wide at night, but I wanted to get in close to the action with this so I shot with a Canon 70 – 200mm lens, and so I didn’t just have the option to set the focus on infinity and fire away. I had to be more specific, but that isn’t easy when you’re trying to focus in the dark on tiny glowing things.

I took three different approaches to focusing:

  1. Just eyeball the distance, set the focus on the lens to that distance, and hope for the best. This worked pretty well.
  2. Shine a light on an object and auto focus on it. Again, this worked pretty well.
  3. Manually focus on the plankton. This was trickier to do as the viewfinder and live view was dim.

Oh, and as always, I shot a lot, and checked the image on the live view to see what I got. I knew I might not get a chance to see this again, so I wanted to make sure that I got the shots I wanted in the can before calling it a night.

Sharper photographs by following this simple rule

You can do a lot in Lightroom or Photoshop, but even with tools such as the Shake Reduction filter it is still nigh on impossible to recover a shakey photo. But by following one simple rule you can dramatically reduce on the number of shakey shots you capture.

The rule is a simple one – take a look at the focal length of the lens you are shooting with then use one over this number as the minimum shutter speed. So, for example, if you are shooting at 50mm, then you minimum shutter speed should be 1/50th of a second. If you are shooting with a 500mm long lens then the shutter speed should be no slower than 1/500th of a second. At the other end of the spectrum, if you are shooting with a 15mm fisheye then you can go as low as 1/15th of a second.

To hit these minimums you would adjust your f-stop and ISO accordingly.

I find this rule worth following when using a tripod if it’s windy.

The longer the focal length the faster the shutter should be. This is because the more you zoom in on an image, the more any shake or vibration shows up.

Some take this rule further and say that the minimum shutter speed should be one over twice the focal length. Now if you are shooting at 50mm the shutter speed should be no lower than 1/100th of a second, and at 500mm it would be no slower than 1/1000th of a second. A 15mm fisheye would need 1/30th of a second on the shutter if following this rule. This should give you an even sharper image, but it is harder to achieve under suboptimal conditions.

Again, to hit these minimums you would adjust your f-stop and ISO accordingly. If you find holding the camera steady tricky, then shortening the shutter speed will help tremendously.

Do you always have to follow this rule? Of course not! If you’re good at holding a camera then you might have no problems shooting with a 500mm lens at 1/250th of a second (learn to brace the camera into your body and face rather than just holding it, and press the shutter button smoothly rather than jabbing at it). Also, if you have a tripod or a lens with vibration reduction/image stabilization then you can also put the envelope of these rules.

Cleaning my camera’s lenses and filters

Having been on Bardsey Island for over a week, and been witness to (and having photographed) a severe gale that hit the island, my camera’s lenses and filters were in dire need of a clean. Fortunately, given the right tools this is a quick and painless job.

Here what I used

Here’s my process for lenses:

  • Blow/brush off the worst of the dirt. You don’t want to be grinding sand particles into your glass if you can avoid it!
  • With that done, take a PEC*PAD and apply one or two drops of the Eclipse cleaning fluid and wipe the lens from the middle towards the outside. If the lens if dirty, use a second (or third) PEC*PAD. The trick is to do the wipe slow so the solution has time to lift the crud off the glass as you go, rather than smearing it onto the glass.
  • Allow the glass to dry (Eclipse will only take a few seconds) and inspect.
  • If clean, put the lens cap back on (after giving it a blow with the blower), or repeat the above steps if you still see dirt on the lens.

For filters it’s a similar process:

  • Blow off the worst of the dust.
  • Apply two drops of the Lee filter cleaning solution to the filter and clean it.
  • Repeat for the other side.
  • Inspect and put away if clean.

I use the Lee solution for filters for two reasons:

  • It doesn’t dry off as fast as Eclipse, so it’s better for big square filters which have a lot more surface area than a lens.
  • It has anti-static properties, so that works to prevent the filter being a dirt magnet (which resin filters can be at times).

With that done, I’m ready for more photography!

Tip of the Day: No-fuss lens changing

I’ve noticed that people tend to get very anxious about changing lenses on their DSLR, almost as though they’re doing something that they’re not supposed to do.

The whole point of owning a DSLR is being able to change lenses. I know that initially it looks a big scary there inside a DSLR, but as long as you follow a few simple rules, you’ll be fine.

  1. RTFM – Read the Friendly Manual that comes with your camera.
  2. Change lenses with the camera off. Not only does this result in less dust being attracted inside the camera (because with the camera off there’s less static charge to attract the dust), but it also means that the camera gets a chance to properly recognize the lens when you switch it on.
  3. Practice changing lenses in the comfort and safety of your home before you have to do it outdoors in the cold/wet/dark.
  4. Different lenses and cameras have different markings to show you how to align the camera and lenses properly. Know where they are.
  5. Work close to the ground (kneeling/sitting) if you can, with something soft underneath you (camera bag or coat). That way if you drop something it doesn’t have far to go.
  6. Keep your back to the wind to reduce dust/dirt getting in your camera.
  7. If your camera is mounted on a tripod, leave it there because it’s one less thing to hold.
  8. Start by pressing the lens release button and part rotating the lens ready for removal. With that done, remove the rear lens cap from the lens you want to use. Now fully remove the lens off the camera, pop the lens down, pick up the lens you want to attach and fit it. Then pop the rear lens cap on the lens you removed. Work slow and methodically.
  9. When you’re done, turn the camera on to check everything is OK. This way you can be sure that the camera is detecting the lens, and also with most modern cameras, this will give the sensor a quick clean.
  10. Tricks like “one-handed lens changing” that you might see on YouTube are for people with big hands or deep pockets.

Care and feeding of my tripod

My tripod – currently a 3 Legged Thing Erica (OK, officially it’s called Eric, but that sounds weird to me, so Erica is a little less weird) – has a hard life. When it’s not thrown on the floor of the car, it’s being treated badly. Hip deep in sea water, knee-deep in sand, shivering in a freezing river, or chucked on the ground in between balancing a camera on its head. It’s a tough job. my 3 Legged Thing tripod in the sea But every so often I give my tripod a little TLC. Not too much or it might get used to it, but enough to keep it going, and I thought I’d lay out my care and feeding regime here. Don’t worry, before long you’ll be snapping more photos.

  1. Wash off any surface dirt/sand/crap. Usually water is enough, but if it’s bad then I’ll add a few drops of dishwashing liquid to the water.
  2. Next, I unscrew the leg sections one leg at a time (being careful not to lose pieces) and get the sand and dirt out.
  3. Next I lubricate the joints in the legs. In the past I’ve used Vaseline and silicone grease, but lately I’ve switched to a bike chain lube called Muc-Off. Don’t go nuts with it or everything will be slimy. I pay close attention to any areas showing corrosion or salt built-up.
  4. I reassemble the joint and move on to the next.
  5. Once all the leg joints are done I give the tripod a once-over looking for loose parts (which I tighten – the 3 Legged Thing comes with a handy toolkit) or stiff bits (which I lubricate).
  6. Before I collapse the tripod, I give the whole thing a final quick wipe with a rag that has a small amount of lubricant on it.

Job done.

Tip of the Day: Fluffy clouds

In this image I did something different from the norm. Since it was a nice, warm evening, and the light was constantly changing as the clouds moved and the sun sunk lower to the horizon, I’d shot a few dozen images while I was there waiting for the day to end. When I got back to the HQ I decided to take a ten of them to combine so I could do something I call cloud stacking.

Here’s how it works (here I’m assuming you know how blending modes and masking works … if you don’t, I’ll cover these in future posts).

  • First, I picked my images in Lightroom and sent them to Photoshop to load as separate layers (right-click on the in the timeline, select Edit In and choose Open as Layers in Photoshop).
  • I selected all the layers and set the blending mode from normal to screen. And as far as the clouds go, that’s it. That generates the fluffy ethereal clouds I wanted, but it also makes a bit of a mess of the foreground, softening it too much for my liking.
  • Next I picked one of the images to be my master image. I picked the lightest image I had since I wanted as much foreground detail as possible. I duplicated this image a set it as the foreground, then I used a mask to hide the sky on that image and reveal the sky from the screen blended images.

I did do a bit more finessing on the image, working the colors and sharpness a bit, but not that much. Mother Nature did most of the hard work for me!

Care and feeding of your camera’s memory cards

When thinking about photography kit, memory cards don’t come high on the list of ‘cool stuff,’ but without them you’ll have nothing to show for your photographic expeditions.

2014-04-17_15-33-00While there are no moving parts to take care of, there are a few things you can do to keep your memory cards healthy.

  • Buy quality cards from a reputable maker. You know what they say – buy cheap, buy twice. And while you can pick up a replacement card, you might not be able to get that once-in-a-lifetime shot again. I buy and use Lexar card, not only because they’ve been thoroughly tested before I get them, but they also come with a great warranty.
  • If you are going to buy cheap cards, buy several small ones rather than a single big one, that way if something does go wrong, you’re limiting the amount of images you’ll lose.
  • Keep cards away from dirt, dust, and moisture, not only for the sake of your cards, but because these cards go inside your precious camera, and any muck on them can play havoc with delicate electronics. It’s a good idea to keep spare cards in a case or card wallet.
  • Format the card instead of deleting the pictures off it. And do this in the camera you are going to use the card in, not on the PC.
  • Transfer the images from your memory card using a card reader connected to your PC as opposed to connecting your camera direct to the PC. Memory card readers are far more reliable and much better suited to the job, and are far les likely to result in data corruption.
  • Never completely fill a card as squeezing that last few images on it might cause corruption.
  • Equally, don’t let your camera’s battery go flat while shooting, as this too can cause corruption.
  • If you do come across a corrupted card, you might be able to recover images off it with a tool like Lexar’s Image Rescue (which comes free with any card from Lexar’s Professional range).

Tip of the Day: Take lots of shots

You’ve dialed in the exposure and got the focus pin-sharp, now all that’s left to do is take a shot.


And you’re done.

Oh no you’re not!

Memory cards are cheap enough that you don’t have to be sparing with the shots you take. It’s not like you’re dealing with a roll of film that has 24 or 36 exposures. Take your time and take a series of shots. Why? Because unless you’re dealing with static things under studio lighting conditions, things can vary from shot to shot. The light can change, the clouds can move, people can move/blink/yawn/pick their nose/pull goofy faces/photobomb you, waves or water can change, or any myriad other things change. Also, if you’re relying on autofocus, sometimes that will sometimes fail you. By taking a series of shots – sometimes I take a dozen, sometimes a lot more – you’re guaranteed to have a good selection of images to choose the best from

Also, it’s also easy to delete any files you don’t want after your shoot so you won’t be cluttering up your hard drive.

Please don’t think for one minute that I’m suggesting a “spray and pray” approach to photography because I’m not. Sure, there are times when you have to crank the camera up to its max shooting speed and let rip, but what I’m advocating here is a “ready, aim … Fire! Fire! Fire! Fire! Fire! Fire! Fire! Fire! Fire! Fire! Fire!” approach.

Click now, and let Lightroom (or Photo Mechanic) sort them out!