Tuesday, 30 of June of 2015

Archives from month » May, 2012

Landscape Photography

Landscape Photography

The “OMG Space Is Cool” geek club is still recovering from spending the entire holiday weekend working on some kind of warp field hypothesis instead of sleeping so they’re all wrecked and in no condition speak coherently, let alone drive the DeLorean at a high rate of speed. Since I’m just a bird, I can’t drive it myself so I decided to meet you folks halfway and let you get a glimpse of how I see the world by talking about landscape photography.

Landscape photography makes the thing that is usually the backdrop the star in a photo. Now, most people, when they try to take a quick snapshot of something they think looks really great, get back home to see that the photo they took doesn’t quite match up with the scene they remember. There are many reasons for this but the primary one is this: human eyeballs and camera lenses aren’t the same. I’m sure that one of the geeks could explain this better but that’s the crux of it: your eye and the camera’s lens don’t work the same.

Now, if you’ve ever had the disappointment of taking what you thought was a great landscape photo only to see that it came out not at all like what you wanted, then this post is for you.

First things first, you’ll want to make certain that the camera is absolutely stable. That means using a tripod or bracing the camera on something that will not move. You humans tend to wriggle a lot even when you think you’re being perfectly still. This is the result of evolving from creatures less awesome than the dinosaur so there’s really not much help for it. Landscape photos also tend to take one off the beaten path, as it were, so chances are that you’re hiking or have been driving for a while and are probably a little winded. So, stabilize the camera. That’s step one.

Step two is to consider your composition. What is it that is interesting about the landscape stretching before you? Is it the mountains in the distance? The way that the grass in the field is moving? The pristine perfection of the scene interrupted only by a single-lane asphalt strip? Find the primary subject of your photo and make certain it’s clear. In portraits, the primary subject is the person you’re taking a picture of. In landscapes, it’s the particular segment of the vista you want to capture and share. Also, don’t be afraid to get dirty or a little silly with perspectives. How do the trees look from the point-of-view of a grasshopper on the ground? How does the field look from the point-of-view of my brother-in-law up in the tree over yonder? As long as you’re being careful, have fun with perspective! The point-of-view can be what makes your photo really unique.

Step three is to take the thing off auto-mode. Yeah, auto-modes are great for a lot of things but they’re kind of like those little wheels you put on kid’s bikes — eventually, they need to come off. So, set your camera on manual and get ready to fiddle with things. Don’t be afraid to experiment a bit, either. Now, if you’re doing landscapes, you’ll want a pretty fair depth-of-field. You get this by using a smaller aperture (the bigger the number, the smaller the aperture). This means that there will be less of an opening for the light to come through so you’ll have to balance this a bit by dialing up the ISO or by decreasing the shutter speed so that the shutter is open for longer (another reason you’ll need to be certain that the camera is completely immobilized).

Once you’ve gotten used to manually adjusting the settings on your camera, you’ll find it easier to take great photos — not just of landscapes, but of anything. And, while you shouldn’t get too hung up in thinking you can fix “everything” in post-production (Photoshop for most of you), don’t be afraid to set up scenes and shots that will let you experiment with HDR techniques (taking the same exact image in multiple resolutions and comping the images together. We’ll go over that in a future post).

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go eavesdrop on the geeks and see if we’re ever going to finish our trek through time.

— da Bird

Images from Digital Photography School, Jeremy Turner, and DJ Designer Lab

Weekly Wrap-Up

Weekly Wrap-Up

It’s Friday and if you weren’t paying attention during the week, you might have missed out on some of the cool stuff we found for you. So, here’s a quick recap of stuff that piqued our interest over on Twitter. Also, remember to stay safe while traveling this Memorial Day weekend — and remember to take a moment to offer a word of thanks or a thought to our veterans. Those who have served in times of peace or war, willing to put their lives on the lines so that the rest of us don’t have to, deserve at least a moment of our time.

And, since it is a holiday weekend, we’ll be back Tuesday with more adventures to share with you then!

Have a great weekend and stay safe, everyone!

— da Bird

A Digital Camera Primer — Point-and-Shoots

A Digital Camera Primer -- Point-and-Shoots

Well, History Geek took the DeLorean and went to watch the battle of Cannae — yeah, I know. No one but History Geek and military historians know or care about that battle — and managed to rip the gas tank on the way back. So, while the geeks are pooling their ignorance to repair the time machine, I’m going to help some of you out with a few tips and tricks on figuring out which digital camera is best for you.

Digital cameras generally fall into one of two large groups: point-and-shoots and DSLRs. Point-and-shoots are generally less expensive and easier to handle but come with less options and features than a DSLR. With a point-and-shoot, you have less fine-grained control over the aperture, the shutter speed, and the focus. For many, this is a benefit. Point-and-shoots also usually have a fairly decent image processor and auto-mode. They’re great for photographers who just want to snap a few quick pictures on a family vacation, a special occasion, or other big moments in life but who are not interested in learning the intricacies of photography or their cameras’ various control modes. While not giving as much control or as many features as a DSLR, point-and-shoots are a head and shoulders above the cameras on most smartphones. With a point-and-shoot, images are much cleaner, camera shake is less of a headache, and the processor can quickly and easily filter out normal motion blur. Additionally, the flash on most point-and-shoots can be enabled or disabled at will whereas said flash is virtually non-existent on a smart phone.

So, what are some of the features on various point-and-shoots? Really, it depends on the camera. For example, the Nikon COOLPIX S30 is a very basic, but very durable, point-and-shoot. The Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-W620 and the Canon Powershot ELPH 110 are less durable but come with more features. All three are able to take good-quality photos (the Nikon can take them underwater) and can capture video. All three come with true optical zoom. Now, let’s break them down and look at them one-by-one.

The Nikon COOLPIX S30 is waterproof and shockproof, making it a great camera for those with active lives or small children. It can take being dropped in the pool or knocked off a shelf and still keep taking great photos. It’s got larger buttons and dials, a user-friendly menu, and a few options to edit your pictures without having to download them to your computer. It can also capture movies at 720p in HD. This COOLPIX includes a portrait mode that detects smiles and snaps the photo for you, an internal stabilizer to minimize camera-shake, and a zoom that lets you get within 2 inches of your subject for close-up work without actually having to get physically close. It’s got a 10.1 MP sensor, letting you take high-quality photos that can easily be printed out later on. In addition to that, there’s no need to fret over leaving the batteries at home — this camera runs off of 2x AA batteries where the other two have their own powerpacks.

Next in line is the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-W620. It’s not as durable as the COOLPIX — you can’t drop this camera in the pool or off a shelf without needing to repair it afterwards. However, it’s much more feature-packed coming with an intelligent auto-mode that, drawing upon its library, recognizes the kind of scene you’re taking a photo of and applies filters correctly to help you capture it in a more polished manner than normal auto-modes. It has the same kind of smile technology as the COOLPIX but also includes a Face Detection mode for group portraits. This Cyber-Shot also takes panoramic pictures — something that the COOLPIX cannot do easily. And, with 14.1 MP onboard, those panoramas will look stunning.

Last but not least is the Canon Powershot ELPH 110. It comes with the ability to take higher-resolution HD video (1080p vs 720p) and many of the features found on the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-W620. In addition to those, however, it offers both high-speed burst video and super-slow-motion. This Powershot can also take all of the short movie clips captured during the day and combine them into one video. Like the Cyber-Shot, it can detect smiles but it can also detect blinking, meaning that you won’t have to worry about your subject having his/her eyes closed at that critical moment. Lastly, at 16.1 MP, the lens and sensor on this camera can take larger, higher-resolution images than the other two.

So, there you have it — three point-and-shoots that may be better for your need (not to mention your budget) than even an entry-level DSLR. That’s not to say that a DSLR is a bad investment — we’ll go over just why they’re good and what they’re best suited for in a future post. For now, I’m going to go spy on the “OMG Space Is Cool” club. They’ve been suspiciously quiet lately which makes me suspect that they’re up to something.

— da Bird

Photography History: The Evolution of Flash…

Photography History: The Evolution of Flash...

Good Monday, everyone. History Geek remembered the plutonium today so we’re off again. Since flash and illumination were two of the major road blocks in decreasing camera size, we’re going to spend some time looking at what flash is and how it enhances photography.

Providing illumination for photography has always been one of the design issues with cameras. Early cameras relied on a simple apparatus that allowed sunlight to come through the lens in order to create the negative for their images. However, such cameras were all but useless at night.

Early flash lamps used flash powder to create a brief illumination for photos. If you saw Back to the Future III and remember the scene where Doc and Marty get their photo taken beside the clock, then you’ve seen the kind of flash lamp I’m talking about. Later, the explosion would be contained within a bulb. After the invention of the light bulb, flash bulbs replaced flash lamps almost entirely.

Part of the reason for the earlier Kodak models’ bulk was due to the inclusion of light bulbs inside the case to provide illumination. Once these bulbs were removed from the inside and instead attached on the outside of the camera as a flash bulb surrounded by the metal disc, the size of the camera mechanism could be compacted greatly. One of the pioneers of the external flash bulb was Harold Edgerton, an American inventor and engineer. He began experimenting with stroboscopes while studying at MIT. In 1937, he began a lifelong friendship with Gjon Mili, a photographer who was using multi-flash stroboscopes in his photography. Applying his knowledge of stroboscopes, Edgerton was able to help photographers capture images that had been impossible to capture before this point in time.

Advances in flash technology have also helped to advance photography as an art. Professional photographers make use of flash to capture portraits, landscapes, skyscapes, action shots, and many other effects that would be nearly impossible without the assistance of flash bulbs. Shutter speed and aperture can only get you so far in low-light settings. Flash allows you to take photos even when the natural lighting is less-than-optimal.

Without flash photography, images like the ones below would be impossible to capture.

All right, History Geek, top ‘er off and let’s move back to the 1900s!

— da Bird

Images courtesy Digital Camera History

Weekly Wrap-Up

Weekly Wrap-Up

It’s Friday and if you weren’t paying attention during the week, you might have missed out on some of the cool stuff we found for you. So, here’s a quick recap of stuff that piqued our interest over on Twitter. Also, don’t forget that we’re running a contest. Get a photo of the annular eclipse, share it with us, and get $5 off your next order!

Have a good weekend everyone and, if you can, get some photos of the annular eclipse and send them our way!

— da Bird

OMG Space Is Cool Club Declares Contest-Time!

OMG Space Is Cool Club Declares Contest-Time!

The “OMG Space Is Cool” club came over to my desk and announced that we are going to have a contest and that I’d better tell all of you about it or I would get shipped straight to space sans helmet. So, we’re having a contest! Yay for contests!

This Sunday, the western US will get to witness an annular eclipse. All you have to do is take a photo of it and share that photo with us over on Facebook or Twitter using the #thiseclipseisawesome and you’ll get a $5-off coupon. That’s fairly simple and straight-forward. Get your camera. Go outside. Take a photo of the moon passing in front of the sun. Send that photo to us over on Facebook or Twitter. Get a coupon for $5 off your next purchase at Beach Camera. And, if you’re not in the area of the eclipse, feel free to chime in here and point out your favorite photos.

Remember, though, to check your camera’s manual for information on what kind of protections might be needed to get a photo of the eclipse. Also, looking directly into the sun — even during an eclipse — with the naked Mark I Human Eyeball is not recommended.

We’ll make an image gallery on Facebook and over at Pinterest of all of the photos we get of this event and let our friends vote on them so stay tuned for more information on that.

Some of you might be wondering what an annular eclipse is (I know I had to get the Geek in Chief to explain it to me a few times before I realized it wasn’t a misspelling of “annual”). An annular eclipse is when the moon passes directly in front of the sun but does not completely cover the sun’s disk. Instead, you get a really cool ring of fire around a big shadowy circle. Since the eclipse will be happening in the western US during the sunset hours, this should look very, very awesome. C|Net has an article with plenty of information on this event as well as a map showing where the eclipse will be the most visible in case any of you are planning to be in those regions on Sunday evening.

So, remember, get your cameras ready and send your photos of the annular eclipse to us over on Facebook or Twitter for $5 off your next Beach Camera purchase!

— da Bird

Check This Out: A New Camera On the Block

Check This Out: A New Camera On the Block

History Geek was too busy nerdraging over being defeated by the “unable to log in” boss in Diablo III last night to remember to swing by the store and grab some plutonium so our adventure through photography history is on a temporary hiatus until the gamers figure out the best tactics for overcoming this encounter. So, instead of an article about the history of photography, you ladies and gents get to hear about some of the latest news in cameras — coming at you straight out of Japan!

Sony’s just recently released a new one: the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX30. It comes with all kinds of bells and whistles such as 18.2-megapixel — putting it a bit above the rest of the crowd in the megapixel wars. It also packs a high speed AF (auto-focus) so that you can get great images even in low light. The 20x/40x Clear Image Zoom doubles the range of the optical zoom while keeping the picture clear and crisp. Also, the DSC-HX30 has full HD 1080/60p video capabilities and can record while taking still images. For those of you who live life on the adventurous side, this camera includes a GPS and Compass functionality so that you can show your friends and family exactly where you took the photos. This Cyber-shot can also do 3D Still Images and 3D Sweep Panorama™ mode and comes with a 3.0″ display.

But wait, there’s more (as the late, great Billy Mays would say)!

The Cyber-shot DSC-HX30 comes with WiFi, allowing you to quickly upload photos and videos directly to social media sites, back them up on a network-connected PC, or view them on a large screen TV. WiFi-enabled smartphones and tablets can also pull images from your camera and upload them to social media. Talk about taking sharing to the next level! And if that’s not enough, this camera comes complete with a plethora of modes to help you achieve professional-looking images without all of the expensive professional-level gear. Superior Auto mode, Anti-Blink Function, Natural Flash, Optical SteadyShot™, Face Detection technology, Soft Skin mode, Motion Detection, Smile Shutter™ technology, Intelligent Scene Recognition Mode, and Background Defocus — this camera’s got it all and makes it a simple matter of snapping the shutter to get great looking images to add to your collection.

As a final bonus, this camera looks like the spheres from Portal. Now, seriously, how could you say no to a camera that comes with that feature included?

— da Bird

Photography History: Enter The Mechanic…

Photography History: Enter The Mechanic...

This is Part II of the Photography History series

Dinosaurs are awesome. Still, it’s time to head to the year 1878. Reconstruction was in full swing in the United States. Life was mostly peaceful across the Pond. France and Prussia were still arguing over Alsace and Lorraine but they weren’t fighting. The Daguerreotype process was the dominant form of photography. However, that was soon to change due to the tireless efforts of one man in the United States.

In 1878, an American man named George Eastman purchased one of the bulky and intricate Daguerreotype process camera kits in anticipation of a trip to Santo Domingo. These kits came with a tent, wet plates, chemicals, the camera, and other apparatuses that were part and parcel of the Daguerreotype process. Eastman remarked that the kit would require a horse dedicated to just carrying it if he took it with him on his vacation. The trip never took place but Eastman, fascinated by photography and the tools required to turn out good photos, became determined to simplify the process. Two years later, he founded the Kodak company. At first, he worked on developing a dry plate process instead of relying on the wet plates required in that era’s photography. Eventually, he moved away from using glass plates at all and instead developed a method of using paper. By 1888, he had patented the Eastman Kodak, a camera that did away with the need for bulky plates, tents, chemicals, and its own horse to cart everything around, instead, coming with film in a roll that allowed the photos to be developed later on. Kodak also provided a service where their customers could mail their Kodak cameras back to the company for the professionals to develop, meaning that would-be photographers no longer had to construct their own darkrooms!

The much smaller, lighter Kodak camera moved photography from the realm of the specialist and into the hands of the everyday working man. Eastman Kodak continued to work on refining cameras, making them smaller and more resilient, always with an eye towards making photography the pastime of the average American. In the 1910s and 1920s, they introduced a new design — the pocket camera. These smaller cameras, however, had no internal or external flash. The flash bulbs were the reason for the bulk but external flash bulbs would not become a reality until 1931.

Flash developments actually did a lot to make photography more useful and the tricks with lighting that photographers learned are what began to separate the amateurs from the pros. Check back for the next part of this series in which History Geek will expound upon flash photography. For now, we’re going to head back to 2012!

Weekly Wrap-Up

Weekly Wrap-Up

It’s Friday and if you weren’t paying attention during the week, you might have missed out on some of the cool stuff we found for you. So, here’s a quick recap of stuff that piqued our interest over on Twitter. Also, don’t forget that Mother’s Day is this Sunday. Let us know how your Mother’s Day went. If you take any good pictures, share them with us over on Facebook or Twitter. We love photos!

Have a great weekend, everyone, and a great Mother’s Day to all you moms out there!

— da Bird

Astrophotography: Taking Awesome To New Levels

Astrophotography: Taking Awesome To New Levels

Remember when I said a few days ago that space was kinda cool? Well, it is. I’ve been spying on the “OMG SPACE IS COOL” geek club’s meetings and, I gotta admit, they’ve got me curious about this. Well, that and the Geek In Chief of the club constantly sending around photos from NASA’s Astronomy Photo of the Day saying things like “Whoa,” “Dude,” and “Killer…” (see my remarks on the Mother’s Day post about this group). So, anyway, what is Astrophotography and why does it matter?

*begin pedantic lecturing mode now*

Astrophotography is a very special branch of photography. Where some photographers specialize in sports, some in portraits, some in landscapes, and some in skylines, astrophotographers specialize in capturing the wonders of the night sky. Using cameras with slower shutter speeds, specialized lenses, and software the enables them to take photos in very low-light settings, astrophotographers bring us wonders such as GoldPaint Photography’s gallery, timelapse videos of the Aurora Borealis, and even photos of other planets taken through a telescope. Almost every day, our resident Space Geek features a photo from an astrophotographer on our Twitter feed. If the final photo of the day isn’t from an astrophotographer, it’s usually from an astronomer with NASA or ESA. Space Geek promotes astrophotography because it’s 1) fun, 2) full of beautiful images, 3) in harmony with our love of photography and space, and 4) surprisingly easy to learn.

While no amateur astrophotographer is going to be able to snap pictures of distant galaxies and nebulae (the Eagle nebula being my personal fave) at the resolutions seen from the Hubble Telescope, many can easily get wonderful pictures of the Milky Way, the solar planets, and even some of our nearby neighbors such as the Triangulum galaxy or the Veil Nebula.

First things first, if you’re interested in astrophotography, you’ll need to learn a bit of astronomy. Join a local astronomy club and start learning about telescopes, how to find things in the night sky, and how to read star charts (real ones, not astrological ones). It’s very difficult to take pictures of distant stars, nebulae, or galaxies if you can’t even find them in the sky!

Once you’ve gotten a solid grasp of astronomy, you should look into getting a DSLR camera that works well for astrophotography. You’ll want to pay attention to things like the ISO settings, white balance, noise balance, and shutter speeds when selecting your camera. Some camera manufacturers, such as Canon, have started making DSLRs with astrophotography in mind. The Canon EOS 60Da is one such camera. After you’ve selected the camera you want to use, spend some time getting acquainted with it. Don’t expect to take pictures of the Triangulum right away; start off with shots of the moon or the night sky without a telescope.

After you’ve gotten comfortable with using your camera, you’ll want to start looking into ways to mount it onto your telescope. The various mounting techniques and adapters can be expensive and difficult to learn and master so study up on them and select the one that works the best for what you want to do. “Piggy-backing” your camera and telescope will take some time to learn well so don’t get too disheartened when your first photos come out not looking like the glossy photos you see in Sky and Telescope.

In time and with practice, you’ll be taking photographs of the distant cosmos and hanging them on your wall for your friends and family to gaze at in wonder. Who knows? Some of your astrophotographs might even find their way to us and be featured in one of our tweets or in our gallery of Cool Photos We Like.

If you’re curious about getting into this field, here are some good links to get you started:

Catching the Light by Jerry Lodriguss
Sky and Telescope
The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide
Find a Local Astronomy Club

Remember, before you decide to do more than dabble your toes in this hobby, get in touch with the local astronomers and see if stargazing is something you can stick with before you shell out a lot of money on telescopes, cameras, and lenses.

Telescope Image: Idea go / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Night Sky Image: aopsan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Aurora Image: nixxphotography / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

*/end pedantic lecturing mode*

Seriously, space is cool. I’d kinda like to go there one day.

da Bird