Photographic Thoughts

Words belong on a word blog. Photos belong on a photo blog. Words therefore go here.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Fence with Tree

Fence with Tree
Originally uploaded by bonnerphotographic
I just like this picture. It reminds me of a happy place.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Tis the Season - My Standing Advice on Buying a First DSLR - updated 10/25/2010

Every year about this time I start getting a flood of emails asking me my advice on buying a camera.  Anyone is more than welcome to email me and ask specific advice, but you should read this first.  My standing advice:  Start simple and build as your skill builds.  Equipment is not a replacement to skill.  You also have to find how you use a camera.  Some people are obsessed with wide angle shots. I like to zoom in as close as possible and fill the frame. Just style differences.

Generally stay away from two lens packages you find on eBay and Amazon. Why? They usually give you a bunch of crap and crappy lenses.  Not always, but usually.  Screw on filter style lenses are no one's friend.
Buy quality stuff and you will be happier and have less stuff.

If I was looking at buying my first DSLR and I just want to make pretty pictures without a lot of thinking I would look get:

1. Nikon D3000 10MP Digital SLR Camera with 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S DX VR Nikkor Zoom Lens ($509)
2. Transcend 8 GB SDHC Class 6 Flash Memory Card with Card Reader TS8GSDHC6-S5W ($25)
3. Hoya 52mm UV (Ultra Violet) Super Multi Coated Glass Filter ($27)
4. Nikon 8072 Microfiber Cleaning Cloth ($10) or any good cleaning cloth. See if an eye doctor will give you one for free.
5. Domke 740-6BK 1-Inch Web Strap without Swivel (Black) ($17)

The first two are necessary to make the camera work.  The UV filter is a good investment because it will protect the front of your lens.  Scratch the filter, throw it away and buy another.  Scratch the front of your lens, throw it away and buy another.   Its a $27 insurance policy.  Do not buy the cheapest UV possible.  That Hoya is a good middle of the road filter.  You wouldn't have to get the Domke strap, but I don't like being a walking advertisement for Nikon.

If I wanted to learn how to use my camera I would look at getting a used D80 or D90 and a 50mm 1.8 or 60mm 2.8 lens from eBay.  Why? The D3000 won't autofocus either of those lenses.  I am a big fan of non-zoom lenses.  They make you think more. The more you think the more you are in control of your picture.  Thinking is what makes your image into something more than just a snapshot.

If you want a case I would look at:
Lowepro Apex 120 AW (Black) ($44)  If you are only going to have one lens, which is what I recommend in the beginning.  or
Lowepro Nova 160 AW Camera Bag ($46) if you are going to eventually get a second lens. 

Camera bags are a not really that important.   Im serious on this. Its a way to keep all your crap together, but if you are out walking around taking pictures they are just another thing to lug.  I never transport my cameras in a bag and they are just fine.  Just take care where you set it down and it fine.  My cameras are not all beat up, dented or scratched.  The reason I recommend the two above is that they are water resistant bags.  So if you are out walking around and it starts to rain you have somewhere to put your camera and keep it dry.  Most bags that come in kits are worthless, cheap pieces of crap that only fall apart well.  If you were only buying the camera and one lens I would save the money and not buy a case at all. Shocking.  Save your money and buy a better lens. Keep the lens cap on your camera when you aren't using it and at all cost protect the back lens if you take the lens off your camera.

You don't need an extra battery unless you are going to be away from an outlet for more than a couple days.  I can shoot all day at a wedding and never get close to running out of power.
You don't need a tripod. Maybe eventually.  Start simple.
You don't need a need a card wallet - an 8GB card in the camera is most likely all you will need.

The manual that comes with your camera is a great resource on the functions of your camera.  If you want to learn more, Scot Kelby is a demi-god in photography education Scott Kelby's Digital Photography Boxed Set, Volumes 1, 2, and 3 ($45) or for something simplier The Betterphoto Guide to Digital Photography (Amphoto Guide Series) ($17) is the book I recommend to my photography students. If you want to get really good at photography you have to learn exposure - so you might as well start off right.  I would recommend Understanding Exposure, 3rd Edition: How to Shoot Great Photographs with Any Camera.

If you wanted to get a different lens look at the:

Nikon 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6 AF-S DX VR ED Nikkor Lens for Nikon Digital SLR Cameras ($360) is a good lens. Has VR and a much better range than the 18-55mm that comes with the camera.

Nikon 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6G ED-IF AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor Lens for Nikon Digital SLR Cameras ($600) is even better. Optically it is nicer than the 105, though you don't get VR and for almost twice the price you would be better off with the 18-105 or the 18-200.

Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S ED VR II Telephoto Zoom Lens for Nikon DX-Format Digital SLR Cameras ($850) Okay, you have gone way past the cost of the camera, but I am telling you this for a reason. The camera body matters very little. The lens you put on it is much more important. At $850 it is every lens you will ever need.  It will work on every nikon camera you will ever buy.

Nikon 55-200mm f/4-5.6G ED IF AF-S DX VR [Vibration Reduction] Zoom Nikkor Lens ($225)  VR is money well spent on any lens. It will help you get clearer pictures by taking some of the shake out of your camera.

When you want your indoor pictures to look better buy a flash.
Nikon SB-600 Speedlight Flash for Nikon Digital SLR Cameras ($220)

Problem with the flash built into your camera, any camera, is that it put light out directly at your subject. Your pictures look like, well, you used a flash.  You need a flash that you can bounce off the ceiling.  Much better light. But that later. Though I would buy a flash before I bought another lens come to think of it in terms of usefulness.

All the links have my Amazon affiliate code in them, so if you are ordering from Amazon and don't have someone better to give the commission to I'd appreciate the kickback :)

I should go back to being a camera salesman. I forgot how much I like talking about this stuff.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Wedding Videos People Will Actually Watch Using A Remotely Fired Camera

I am of the opinion that no one wants to watch your wedding video and you probably don't want to watch your wedding video for at least ten years.  So with that said, make sure its in a future proof format. I would be hard-pressed to find a VCR now to play mine. So what will people watch - a minute version of your wedding, on YouTube. Like so:

So what you have here is a minute ten time-lapse of Shaun and Jessica's wedding.  It was shot with the following hardware:
  • Nikon D80 camera [$600]
  • Sigma 30mm 1.4 lens [$430]
  • CyberSync Wireless Remote Controls [$130]
  • Shutter Release Cable [$25]
  • Tripod [$375]
Software was Quicktime Pro.  Here's a nice silent video on how to get your images into movie form: LINK
Or for other software suggestions go to HERE []

You look at that list of equipment and say WHOA that's a lot of money just to make a little time-lapse video.  Well to be honest it is all overkill for what you are trying to produce.  That is just want I used because I'm a wedding photographer and I had all of that equipment with me at the wedding anyway.  The only special purchase was the $25 shutter release cable.  The CyberSyncs are what I use to trigger my lights during the formals. Same with the camera and lens - they're already pulling double duty during the wedding day.

Here's why the time-lapse above is not really just a time-lapse but rather a smart time-lapse.  Normally a time-lapse will take a picture every so often, usually 1 - 2 secs for an event with a short duration, like clouds rolling or a 30 minute wedding ceremony, to 1 every day if you are taking a picture of say a construction site.  Using the wedding scenario, it is possible that you could miss something important by having it dumbly fire every other second, while at the same time end up with lots of extra frames you don't really need. So here's where my smart time-lapse is cooler and better than dumb time-lapse.  During a ceremony I am waking around the main floor of the church with a camera and a 70-200mm VR lens. The problem I have as a solo shooter is that I can only point a camera in one direction at a time.  This remote camera set up allows me to get a wide angle shot and a telephoto shot at the same time.  The happy byproduct of this is a very nice time-lapse. Here's how I do it:

  1. The remote camera's clock is sync'd with the walking around camera's clock.
  2. I place the camera on a tripod someplace that it won't get bumped.  The camera cannot move or your movie will jump.
  3. The focus is set for where the couple will be standing and then put on manual. 
  4. The exposure is set for where the couple will be standing and then put on manual.
  5. The white balance is set for where the couple will be standing and then put on manual. 
  6. A Cybersync battery powered receiver is attached to the tripod and the shutter release cable attaches the receiver to the camera via the cameras shutter release port.
  7. The Cybersync reciever is on the same channel as the transmitter.
  8. Take a picture with the camera with the transmitter and boom - the remote camera fires too.
You are going to have as many time-lapse photos as you take during the ceremony which is a good and bad.  The more photos you have from the remote camera the more fluid your movie will look.  I have learned to hit the test button on the transmitter to add frames of important things that I don't need floor level coverage of.  A perfect example would be the wedding party walking down the aisle.  Not really wedding album material - but good for the video. So I hit the button every so often and add those frames in.  This also allows you to cut out most of the time sermon where there isn't so much action to have in the video. During much of the sermon there isn't a lot for me to photograph. So that's when I usually am able to sit down and delete duds.

Again, my original intent was to be able to get pictures from two angles while there is only one of me.  The happy byproduct is the time-lapse.

You should look for other applications of this where it would be cool to have two shot of two angles or two focal lengths and see what kind of time-lapse can result from it. I orginally stole this off the Strobist website about how to fire a remote camera using a pocket wizard.  Exact same principles just a little different equipment. [See Strobist Post]

All of this of course is the alternative to having a camera make a dumb time-lapse such Amy and Mike driving around in the back of a car:

Now that was shot an infrared modified Canon G10 with a cheapo eBay interval meter (G9 has this built in).  There is makes no sense to have to use smart time-lapse technology (can I patent that?)

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Picasa 3

I'm a big fan of google. I think they do some amazing work. A lot of people don't realize that they have a whole host of free programs.  One of my favorite is Picasa. Picasa is used to organize your ever growing digital photography collection.  At the same time you can tag, geotag, color correct and otherwise fiddle with your pictures.  You can also easily upload your pictures to their free online storage called Web Albums, or to a number of photo processors.   Great stuff and free.

Picasa (Free)

Friday, March 6, 2009

Monday, July 14, 2008

Starting Point: One Light

I'll admit it, I have fallen in love with the Strobist way of thinking about light: Less gear, more thinking, better images.There was a entry today about  Timothy Greenfield-Sanders who shoots with a large 8x10 camera, but with only one light  proported light source.  In the interview posted on the Strobist site, Timothy states that "There are critics of my work who say 'well he takes the same picture over and over again.'"  He agrees with that comment, but states that he is is making a document of a person and a time.  The images he produces have individuals with very stern faces in simple backgrounds.  The viewer is forced to see the subject.

I have never been one to specialize in anything.  I like being a jack of all traits, master or none.  It has served me very well through the years and I intend to keep it up.  I can see though the virtues of mastering every tool that you want to use.  Off-camera lighting is full of tools and toys.  I recently bought three pocket wizards solely for the purpose of being able to do off camera lighting. I have made the committment to myself, that before I buy anything else. I must learn how to squeeze every bit of usefullness out of what I have.  Going back to simple light forces the photographer and viewer to slow down and look at the subject. Capturing essence is more important to me than documenting.  One should never find being good at something as an acceptable criticism.  However, to keep doing the same thign over and over, simply because it works, doesn't leave much room to grow either.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Strobist Love for the Nikon SB-600

It's no secret that Im a big fan of the website Strobist. So at Mr. Hobby's prompting I bought a set of PocketWizards.  But at the same time I love my pair of Nikon SB-600s.  I don't have a Nikon SB-800 or SB-900 so I'm sure I don't know what I'm missing with all their fanciness, but I really like the Nikon SB-600.  They do everything I ask of them, but they don't have a PC connector that is required to use radio triggers. 

PocketWizards are as the Strobist stated, are the gold standard for wireless flash triggers. Now just like the US went off the gold standard, these too might not be the end all (***COUGH, RADIOPOPPERS, COUGH***) but for now, they do everything I want. They are reliable triggering of my strobes. So I order myself a pair through Amazon and get all excited about their arrival. I already had a set of stands, a few umbrellas and a set of hotshoe adapters that fit nicely on my light stands. In my excitement I download the PDF to the PocketWizards and what do I find, Duh!, PocketWizards have a mini mono plug on one side and a male pc on the other. My hot shoe adapters which allowed me to use my ghetto Gadget Infinity triggers with my Nikon SB-600 flashes wouldn't work. So I turn to Strobist for some help. The suggestion there was a cable that was something crazy like $47. Craziness. So I turned to Google - Google knows all. 

Google knows

Google pointed me to There I found a nice set of PC to Flash Hotshoe Adapters (Item #0065). These things have a screw adapter on the bottom for my light stand posts, a hot shoe on top and two female PC connectors. Now we are cooking. The best part is these things are only $11 with very reasonable shipping ($3.50). I was very pleased with the service I received from The little adapters came nicely packaged, on time with little fuss and even a little note on my invoice thanking me. I appreciated that.  So now I don't miss the fact that my SB-600 lack a PC connector.  In fact, I would argue that this set-up is even better because there is no cable connecting the flash to the trigger - instead the trigger is connected to the hotshoe.  This means I can leave the whole thing connected to the lightstand.  If I need to take my flash off during a wedding and go back to on-camera flash it I can easily with just unlocking the flash from the hotshoe.

Also on is the same thing I had before, a hotshoe with a connector wire, but instead of a male pc connector, this has has a mono mini plug to connect to a pocket wizard. It only costs $17, so price isn't a big deal, but to me, I think having two PC ports has more uses. PC cables are cheap and very versatile. So I'm very happy with the decision I made.

So, moral of this post is if you have a small flash like the Nikon SB-600 and you want to connect a pocket wizard to it, I would suggest you pony up $11 and send it to Very cost effective. Simple.

UPDATE:  I have since sold my PocketWizards and bought a set of CyberSyncs.  Why? Because they are smaller, cheaper and work just as reliably as my PW's.  The CyberSyncs work exactly the same as above with the PocketWizards. FWIW.