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.

Behind the Camera: ‘Raw Power’ – Porth Swtan/Church Bay, Anglesey

The trick to taking a shot like this:

  • Get low to the water. Lower than that. LOWER!
  • Backlighting is best because this allows you to see through the water, so that means early morning or the evening.
  • Fast shutter speeds to freeze the action. Either a fast lens or a higher than average ISO.
  • Zoom in close. If that’s not an option, crop tight.
  • Shoot. Lots. Of. Images. Dozens.
  • Don’t bother trying to time the waves. Just fire away. You can always delete images that aren’t cool afterwards.
  • Try not to get (your camera) wet!

Sensor Gel: Moose Patterson says “service life too low for the price”

One of the things that every DSLR photographer will have to do eventually is clean their camera sensor (even if you don’t change lenses, eventually the sensor will get mucky).

Sensor Gel Stick

I use Visible Dust products to clean my gear – with great results – but I’m always on the lookout for something “convenient” and “time saving,” so I’ve been interested in a new product called Sensor Gel Stick. It seems handy to use, especially in the field (when away from the home/office) but the $50 price tag seemed a little steep to me so I’ve been keeping an eye out for reviews.

And today ace photographer Moose Patterson gave us his verdict on the product.

“I did use the hell out of the thing which is more than most would in a year, but I still find the service life too low for the price.”

Bottom line, he says he used “the hell out of the thing” since January but over the past few weeks it’s lost its stickiness.

Now, I’ve no doubt that Moose has used the hell out of this, and that a few months in his hands is more than a year of use for normal folks, but that still feels like a short lifespan to me.

The makers are reformulating the gel (partly so it doesn’t stick to and damage Sony sensors) so things might get better with the MkII version, but for now I’m giving this a miss.

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.

Behind the Camera: ‘Nuclear Powered’ – Cemlyn Bay, Anglesey

Isn’t it funny how there are cool places right on your doorstep that you’ve never visited? This is how I felt when I ventured to Cemlyn Bay on the north-west coast of Anglesey the other day. Here was a place about 30 minutes away from where I live that I knew existed, drove past regularly, but that I had never actually been to.

Cemlyn Bay is an odd place.  You have a bay, a lagoon, a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a nuclear power station all grouped cozily together.  My initial visit was during the daytime, but the mix of nature and nuclear physics intrigued me, as it’s a pretty diverse use of the land. Land use is a sensitive topic – as a photographer I’ve come to the conclusion that there are people who don’t like power stations, others who don’t like wind turbines, others that don’t like pylons, but they all like being able to plug stuff in and make it work at the flick of a switch. There is currently strong opposition in the area to the building of a new power station next to this one.

I had a crazy idea that it would be a good place for night photography. Maybe some star trails over the power station.

With Lyrid meteors were supposedly in the air and signs pointing to possible auroral activity, I returned with Kat a few nights later with the idea of a night shoot.

Going anywhere for the first time is always a gamble, especially at night. I’d sort of thought that the nuclear power station would make for unusual background interest to a night shot, but I’d underestimated in the daylight how bright the place would be at night. I suppose there’s no shortage of electricity there! The site was less than a mile away from me, and it was as night sky friendly as a major city.

After a few test shots I ascertained that I could capture stars despite all the artificial lighting, but it was a balancing act. Let in enough light to get the stars nice and bright and the power station became a featureless mass of light. Go the other way and meter for the power station, and the stars winked out of existence.

In the end I decided that I would take separate exposures, metering for the power station in one and everything else in the other. A 5 second exposure at F8 and ISO 1600 gave me a good shot of the power station, while a 30 second exposure at F2.5 and ISO 1250 gave me good stars and let me catch some meteors. I helped the foreground pop a little more with a splash from my LED flashlight. I shot a bunch of sky shots and picked the best one – the one with the shooting star – and blended it with the power station shot manually using Photoshop.

By the way, I’m not convinced that the meteor I caught is a Lyrid (which peaks on the night of April 22/23) as it’s not at the right angle to the radiant point for the Lyrids, but something made a fiery entry through the atmosphere at just the right time!

Oh, and the sky and water DOESN’T glow green around this area! It’s in fact yellow, thanks to the intense lighting, but I thought green gave it a NU-CLE-AR feel! This effect I pulled off with a little split toning in Lightroom. Sure, not the most politically correct effect to apply, but I like it.

On the way back from taking this shot I came across Britain’s Civil Nuclear Constabulary, an armed branch of the police force who protect these sites. I must have drawn attention to myself, probably with the light painting! 😉 All was cool though, and it’s good to know they are keeping a watchful eye on things.

Can an Aperture 3 workflow be faster than a Photo Mechanic 5 workflow?

I’m a huge fan of Photo Mechanic 5. It’s a program that has dramatically streamlined, maybe even revolutionized, my workflow, and actually made me love working with Lightroom a lot more than I did.

But is a workflow using Photo Mechanic 5 the best? This series of videos suggests that a workflow using Aperture might be faster.

I don’t use Aperture, and I don’t have any plans to switch from Lightroom, but this is still food for thought.

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!

Behind the Camera: ‘Surf’s Up’ – Porth Swtan/Church Bay, Anglesey

Sometimes it can be getting dark, but there’s still too much light.

That was the situation I found myself in last night when I rolled up at a local beach just as the sun was kissing the horizon. I knew that by the time I’d be setup I’d have missed the sunset so I decided to make the most of the red sky that my “Spidey weather senses” was predicting we’d get.

And I was right. By the time I’d scouted out a spot with some interesting foreground, midground and background elements in it, the sun had dipped below the horizon and the sky had started to pink up nicely.

I set up only inches above the ground, and right on top of where the water was lapping. I just love the face that my 3 Legged Thing Erica tripod (I can’t call the thing Eric, sorry, so I’ve added an “a”) can get so low to the ground – scarily low when you’d above lapping sea water!

Despite the fact that the sun had set on us for the day, it was still too bright to get a long exposure without using filters. Even slamming the aperture down to F16 – which I did to get a good depth of field – didn’t slow things much beyond a second, so I reached for my trusty Formatt-Hitech 6-stop Pro IRND filter (which is like my Lee Little Stopper except the Formatt-Hitech filter has two advantages over the Lee product – it is resin rather than glass so a lot less likely to explode into a billion expensive pieces, and it also filters out IR as well as visible light so I don’t get the crazy blue color cast).

The filter allowed me to keep the shutter open for 30 seconds, plenty of time to catch the water lapping over the rocks and seaweed, and it also reduced my post-processing time later by not messing with the colors as much.

As usual I got my feet wet taking this shot (I promise I’ve ordered some Muck Boots which claim to be able to accommodate my big calves … so once I have them I’ll no longer be complaining about my feet) but getting up close and personal to the water is part of the fun of these shots. Sure, I could set up the tripod at eye height and position myself ten feet away from the water, but that shot wouldn’t be anywhere near as dramatic as one where the lens is less than a foot from the water.

Being this close to the water meant I couldn’t use my cable release safely in case it went for a swim, so to reduce camera shake I activated the 2-second delay on the camera, which worked fine. I also made sure that the tripod had a firm footing so as not to move during the shot.

How did I process this shot? Well, that’s a bit more involved so I’ll leave that for a later post – I’m just off out to take some more photos now!

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