Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Taking Your Camera Off “Auto” – Exposure Control

By Brendan Keenan, Penn Camera Tysons Corner

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Digital cameras have made things easy. All new cameras offer automatic settings, which control exposure, usually doing an accurate job. In the days of film, exposure was something you had to be concerned about, you didn't have the instant feedback of digital, and film was not reusable. Digital has certainly made exposure simpler (and less expensive). For many people, “auto” is all they want. If you have the ability on your camera however, taking it off auto and taking control of your exposure can add a new dimension of creativity, and dramatically improve your pictures.

There are three parts to controlling exposure, and three elements which affect exposure. The first is the ISO value. In traditional photography, this referred to the film "speed", or its sensitivity to light. In digital photography it refers to the sensitivity of the sensor. A higher ISO will be more sensitive to light, good for fast shutter speeds, or shooting in low light. The downside to high ISO's is the increased likelihood of noise in the photograph. Noise is the digital equivalent of graininess in film. There are times when you may need a high ISO. In low light, with the help of a tripod, high ISO's will allow you to capture good exposures with the little light available. The lower ISO speeds offer less sensitivity to light, but produce the highest quality images. ISO is just one aspect of exposure. Combining ISO with a selected shutter speed, aperture, or both is the way to take real control over the exposure.

The aperture is the second component of exposure. The aperture is the part of the lens that opens or closes to let in light. The f-stop refers to the size of the aperture currently set in the lens. A low f-stop like f2.8 or lower will gather a lot of light. A large f-stop like f16 or f22 will be a much smaller opening in the lens, letting in far less light. Controlling the amount of light entering the lens is critical to the exposure, and when combined with an appropriate shutter speed and ISO will give you a good exposure. This isn't all there is to aperture control though. Just as important, and possibly more so, is the aperture's effect on depth of field. Depth of field refers to the area in front of, and behind your subject. This can be very important to the photograph. For example, in a portrait you would probably want just your subject in focus, with the background a pleasant blur. To accomplish this you would need a low f-stop, meaning the aperture is open wider. In a landscape though you would want everything from the trees in the foreground, to the mountains in the distance to have detail in the photo, and would want to use a small aperture, like f22. Depth of field can have just as much of an effect on a photo as accurate exposure. This is a great way to get creative with photos as well, and take more control. The other way to gain control over exposure and get creative is by controlling shutter speed.

Shutter Speed
Shutter speed is the amount of time the camera exposes the photograph. The longer the shutter stays open, the more light is let in. This is the third element of exposure. In combination with the aperture and the ISO setting, shutter speed makes for correct exposure. But just like the f-stop, the shutter speed does a lot more than just aid in exposure. It can help you take control of photographs in a way that the automatic settings on your camera just can't do. By using high shutter speeds you can take much better action shots. High shutter speeds will let you freeze objects in motion, even in mid-air, for those dramatic sports shots. Slowing down the shutter can help to make creative effects, like the controlled blur of moving objects like people, cars, or water. By controlling blur with slow shutter speeds you can get very creative effects, or just help with exposure in low light. Just remember the tripod.

These are just some of the things that you can do by taking control over exposure. The best way to learn about and improve your skills with both aperture and shutter controls is to experiment. You'll see how ISO plays a role as well. Just take a few pictures that are exactly the same, but keep changing the aperture, or the ISO. You'll see how much of a difference it can make. Shutter control is often the only way to get what you want out of an action shot. Learn to control exposure, and you'll open up a whole new level of photography, and really learn to get creative.

If you want to take your photography to the next level, check out the classes section of penncamera.com to see the many classes we offer to help you take the next step and get the most out of every photograph!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Gallery at Laurel - Photographer Ray Lemar

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Gallery Opening for Photographer Ray Lemar
Penn Camera Laurel
Friday, May 28th

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Ray Lemar is a retired detonation physicist who has had a 47 year obsession with photography. Although he dabbled in photography in his teen years, he first became seriously interested during his sophomore year at the University of Illinois when he joined the photo staff of the Daily Illini, the university’s student newspaper.

Working on the Daily Illini was a great experience for a beginning photographer since photo staff members had to not only shoot the photographs for the paper, but also to process film, make prints and even produce the plates that were used on the newspaper’s printing press. Ray continued working on the newspaper throughout the rest of his undergraduate years, becoming a night photo editor during his senior year.

A sampling of the images you will see at Ray's gallery:

When Ray entered graduate school, he set up a temporary darkroom where he processed black and white and color slide film, and produced black and white prints. After Ray married his wife Linda, they moved into a larger apartment and he started also processing color negative film and making his own color prints.

After Ray finished graduate school, he and his wife moved to Pullman, WA, where he taught and did research in the Washington State University Physics Department for eight years. Throughout those years he continued to expand his photographic skills.

In 1980 Ray moved to Laurel, MD, and took a job at the Naval Surface Warfare Center, first at White Oak, MD, and then at Indian Head, MD. He retired in May 2009, but still does some consulting work through the Energetics Technology Center in La Plata, MD.

Over the years he has used mainly 35mm and medium format cameras, but has also shot with cameras ranging from a Minox B subminiature camera up to a 5X7 view camera. In 2001, Ray bought my first digital camera, a Nikon CoolPix 990, and followed that with a Nikon D100, a Nikon D200, and finally a Nikon D700 and a Canon G11. The Nikon D700 and the Canon G11 are now his primary cameras.

While Ray enjoys taking many types of pictures, his favorites are macro shots of small wildflowers and insects.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Penn 18th Now OPEN on Saturdays!

Just a quick note - for all of you weekend warriors looking for gear and supplies, Penn 18th Street in DC is now going to be OPEN on Saturdays from 10am - 4pm. Come by and visit us!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Using Off-Camera Flash

By Brendan Keenan, Penn Camera Tysons Corner

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When it comes to good photography, it is all about the light. Light is what makes a photo after all. Controlling light can mean the difference between a snapshot, and a great photograph. Yet many people, even digital SLR users, are only using the light around them, or the light that comes from their camera. To take control, the best thing to do is to take the light source off the camera. Through proper use of simple off-camera flashes, any photographer can take greater control over light, and get much better photographs.

Though it varies from camera to camera and flash to flash (check your manual), the basics are the same. Even a simple two flash setup can illustrate how off-camera flash works. One flash serves as the master, or commander flash. The second flash is the slave unit. The slave unit uses a sensor, sometimes optical, sometimes infrared, that faces the camera to allow it to fire when the master flash or camera sends the signal. In a multiple flash set-up, always make sure each sensor is facing the master camera or flash. Most speedlights from manufacturers like Nikon or Canon will swivel around so that you can always orient the sensor toward the master flash, which can be the camera's pop-up flash. In many cases, the best way to set up the off-camera unit(s) is to use light stands, or even tripods or monopods. This is because depending on what you are photographing, lighting placement may be very different. So when should off-camera flash be used to achieve the best results? For anything from photographing small objects for eBay, to portrait or even event photography.

Let's start with portrait photography. Taking the main light source away from the camera, or using multiple off camera flashes can create much more flattering effects. The best way to maximize control in this case (besides using light stands or tripods) is to use lighting modifiers. Lighting modifiers will help to control the light from the flash units. Using either something near the flash like an umbrella to shoot off or through, or an accessory like a Gary Fong Lightsphere or a Honl light modifier that attaches directly to the flash, you can control how soft or harsh, direct or indirect light is, and create the effect you are looking for. Remember, it's all about controlling the light. This is mostly the same for event photography. For lighting larger areas or groups, you may have to use multiple flashes and stands, umbrellas, or reflectors, or get really creative and use your surroundings. You can experiment with things like bouncing strong light off the ceiling, to control light in larger spaces.

Another great use for off-camera flash is when shooting macro photography. Whether it is photographing flowers, or even smaller items like coins for eBay, off-camera flash can create dramatic results, and show the detail that close-up photography demands. One good reason is that you can place the flash very close to your subjects. By using light from only inches from a subject, your lens can use very small f-stops, like f16 or f22, to create a large depth of field, something that is often hard to attain in macro photography. To increase the detail on small objects, it is often helpful to use the off-camera flash to light the subject from the side, which helps to bring out detail in very small subjects. The best way to create even lighting and eliminate shadows when taking pictures of items for eBay is the use of lighting modifiers, the easiest being a small light box, or light tent. With a light box, you can place the object inside the box, shooting through an opening, while lighting the subject from the sides or even above, through the tent. This will create an even, diffuse lighting that is perfect for product photography.

These are just the basics of off-camera lighting. But even simply using one off-camera flash unit can really change your photos. By adding multiple lights, stands, and simple light modifiers, it can be surprisingly easy to take your photography to the next level. Through gaining greater control over light, any photograph can be improved. It is amazingly quick and simple to do these basic setups described above, but it's the improvement in your photographs that will be truly amazing.

If you’re looking for a demonstration of the techniques discussed here, be sure to attend one of our free in-store mini-seminars or one of our more in-depth classes with professional instructors. Keep checking back! New classes are added all the time.

Gallery at Fair Lakes - Photographer Katie Reeg

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Gallery Opening for Photographer Katie Reeg
Penn Camera Fair Lakes
Friday, June 11th

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Camping and hiking with her family since she was very young, Katie Reeg has enjoyed taking photographs at any opportunity. As she matured, her interest in this hobby grew into a passion. Since her interest in photography began, her works has primarily involved landscapes. Coming from a military family they moved often and she was exposed to varied National Parks. Her admiration of famous landscape artists such as Ansel Adams made her want to capture the interesting places she had seen and make them as stunning as she could. She is continually awed by the vastness of our country and the varied landscape that she finds on her hikes. She enjoy searching out the hidden locations to achieve the composition she desire. Katie tries to capture her photos as representational utilizing sunlight, water, and reflections as the key elements. "The lighting gives the photo energy, drawing the viewer to the photo, while the water and the use of refection give life to the photo," says Katie.

A sampling of the images you will see at her gallery:

Katie likes the challenge of working the scene from different angles and settings to get the best composition she can. One of her latest pieces of photography focuses on landscapes from the local region. It is titled “Dark Hollow Falls” and was shot in the evening as the light reflected on the flowing water. When taking her photographs she tends to take them in the early morning or evening to give the photos a richer texture. Her idea was to capture the moment where the viewer can envision themselves watching the water actually flowing down the rocks. In this photograph, she focused on movement to bring out the best composition while at other times she accentuate absolute stillness using reflection or lighting to bring out the effect she desires to show the experience of the place.

Her goal is always the same though and that is to present the viewer a photo that will draw them into the image as if they were there. Please visit www.kmreegphotography.com to view more of Katie's work.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Nikon D90: a DSLR Video Revolution.

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DSLR filmmaking is beginning to come into focus (pun unintended), with major names like Saturday Night Live and House using readily available semi-pro DSLRs to shoot scenes and entire episodes. Professional and amateur directors alike have begun to tout the improved maneuverability and versatility the same cameras used by still photographers. Today we’ll take a look at the first DSLR to offer HD video recording: the Nikon D90.

The D90 boasts the ability to record 720p HD video as well as VGA and QVGA resolutions with audio capture supported in all modes. When the camera was originally released in 2008, these video recording modes made the D90 one of a kind as it was the only DSLR on the market with the ability to capture HD video as well as still pictures. Not only is the D90’s video recorded in crisp 720p HD, its shot at 24 frames per second - the same frame rate as most cinema film cameras. Though it’s certainly debatable, many sources argue that 24p footage looks more cinematic than the 30p footage produced by other DSLRs and camcorders. You should be aware however that like most DSLR's with video capture capability, you are limited to 5 minutes at a time. I think most will find this sufficient for many of their intended uses.

The D90’s excellent performance doesn’t stop at video capture - its 12.3 megapixel DX-format CMOS sensor produces stunning results. With an ISO range of 100 (low 1 mode) to 6400 (high 2 mode) and 4.5 frames per second burst mode, the D90 will lend itself well to a wide variety of shooting conditions. An 11-point autofocus system ensures rapid and intuitive acquisition and tracking of subjects. I find that the picture quality rivals that of DSLR’s costing significantly more.

To take full advantage of these video and still photography capabilities, the D90 is compatible with all Nikon AF and AF-S lenses and current external flashes. Because of this interchangeability, it’s easy to creatively use the D90 to its full capabilities. If you’ve already got Nikon gear, there is probably no need to replace it should you wish to purchase a D90 as an upgrade to your current camera body.

In my testing of the D90, I was impressed by its build quality, its beautiful 3-inch main LCD and top LCD displays allowed me to easily access important shooting information and photo previews. The 24p HD video comes out wonderfully, though I wish a line-in jack was provided for the use of an external microphone.

The D90 is an outstanding camera. A hobbyist looking to take great pictures, an advanced level amateur will love it. Overall, it’s an excellent camera and worth your consideration.

Compare to: Nikon D700, Nikon D300s, Canon EOS 7D

Key Accessories:
Nikon Lens or Tamron Lens
3 year Extended Service Plan
Camera Bag
Promaster spare battery (camera comes with rechargeable battery)
Sandisk 16 GB memory card

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Digital Camera Review: Nikon Coolpix S8000

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The Nikon Coolpix S8000 is an outstanding new long zoom compact. Nikon has produced a feature rich digital camera line that is really priced right for the average user. While I’ve enjoyed other Coolpix cameras, the Coolpix S8000’s combination of high resolution, beautiful display, and 10x optical zoom in a small package really makes it stand out from the rest. The older displays have not been popular among some users, so the new display is a major upgrade.

The Coolpix S8000 has and impressive 14.2 megapixel resolution, equivalent to the Nikon Coolpix S6000 for the highest resolution offered by the Coolpix product line. 14.2 megapixels is pretty robust for a point & shoot, and you can create breathtaking photo-quality 20 X 30 inch prints, no problem.

The 10x wide-angle zoom-Nikkor ED glass lens isn’t the most powerful lens offered by the Coolpix product line, but provides great flexibility for the average photographer’s needs. The wide angle zoom lens is one of the more popular features my customers are asking for, and this makes the S8000 a great option. Get your whole extended family in the shot with the wide angle lens, or capture the action across the stadium with the 10x zoom. The combination of wide angle with a long zoom gives you the best of both worlds.

Next up, the Smart Portrait System – this offers a lot of features that I found my customers constantly ask me about. The In-Camera Red-Eye Fix technology works removes most red-eye problems that other some digital cameras just can’t compensate for. The smile timer and blink proof feature is amazing! It makes the camera take two pictures, and always saves the one where the photo’s subjects’ eyes are open. When I was testing it, I hardly even had to think before I grabbed a shot.

The camera also produces HD 720p video, you can get great clips for sharing with relatives or uploading to YouTube. Watch your movies on an HD TV, you will be impressed with the quality of the output.

One of my favorite features of the Coolpix S8000 is probably its 3.0 VGA Clear Color display. While the size of the display screen is the same as other Nikon Coolpix cameras, such as the P100 and L110, its 921K-dot wide-viewing angle is the highest of any Coolpix camera. Overall, the S8000 is a very easy to use, feature-rich camera.

Compare to: Canon SX 120, Sony DSC HX5V, Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3

Key Accessories:
- 3 Year Penn Camera Damage and Defect Service Plan
- Promaster protective case
- Promaster 4 GB Memory Card