Review: The Joy of Digital Photography

While browsing the library for a good book on photography, I stumbled upon The Joy of Digital Photography. It was one of the newest books the library had on digital photography, so I figured it was worth a try.

The Joy of Digital Photography can be divided into 3 main sections; general orientation & the basics of photography, composition & design, and finally digital editing. The first few chapters cover the basics of photography. The book starts off with the obligatory “digital camera orientation” chapter, explaining about megapixel count, resolution, different types of digital cameras, and various camera accessories like tripods, monopods, external flashes and bags. The next few sections address the basics of photography; exposure, depth of field, shutter speed, aperture, ISO and white balance.

After the basics of photography, the focus of the book shifts to design and composition. Some of the design basics include horizon placement within the photo, how to frame the image, and how to add depth to an image.  An entire chapter is dedicated to light, explaining how the direction and quality of light will affect images. The next two chapters cover two broad photographic subjects; people (weddings, children, groups, sports, travel, etc.)  and nature (mainly landscapes, animals and weather).

Finally, the last chapters focus on the digital aspect of digital photography. Two chapters explain the basics on digital photo editing (cropping, leveling, sharpening, cleaning up scanned images). The final chapter focuses on how to set up your digital darkroom; discussing computer options, organizing your digital library, what to look for in a scanner, and how to decide on photo paper.

As a whole, I really liked this book. I found it to be accessible to those just starting out in digital photography, while still being relevant to those with some digital photography experience. One thing that I really liked was that the author made no assumptions about the reader or the gear they might be using. While Tom Ang’s How to Photograph Absolutely Everything covered a broad range of photographic subjects,  Ang assumes the reader is using a simple point and shoot digital camera. The recommended camera settings for various subjects are generally given in terms of which semi-automatic camera scene mode to use, with little explanation of why one setting was chosen over another. If the reader has a more advanced camera, or hopes to delve into anything beyond automatic or a pre-selected camera scene mode, they are pretty much on their own. With The Joy of Digital Photography, there is perhaps a slightly smaller range of photographic subjects covered, but the depth of information on design, composition and digital editing more than makes up for that. Overall, I think this is an excellent digital photgraphy reference book; it covers a full spectrum of topics without confusing new photographers or speaking down to more experienced photographers.

Last Minute Details

With Faith’s wedding just 3 weeks away, it’s time for me to get the last of the wedding photography prep work done. The main thing I need to do still is a timeline/checklist for photos. Of course, with the wedding at 11am and the reception following immediately after, I have no idea when I’m supposed to do the family portraits. I doubt that everyone will be photo ready before the ceremony, and it doesn’t look like there will be much time between the ceremony and reception.

I’ve already checked out the ceremony location, as it’s the same church Matt & I were married at last year. There’s a little chapel with beautiful stained glass windows that I’m hoping I’ll be able to use; I’m not really sure what kind of light to expect in the middle of the day, though. I’ve not checked out the reception hall yet, and I’m not sure I’ll have the chance to before the wedding. Hopefully there are photos on their website, so I can get a rough idea of the layout, and possibly the lighting situation.

As far as camera gear goes, I’m thinking I’ll want to get an external flash before the wedding. My main issue is deciding if I want the Speedlite 430EX ($235) or the 580EX ($390). The 430EX is probably all I need at this point; the 580EX has more features and such, but I can’t justify spending that much more on a flash right now. Where lenses are concerned, I’m hoping my 50mm prime should suffice for most of the shots. Of course, if I get the flash then I should be able to use my 18mm-55mm indoors as well. I’ll probably need another memory card; I’ve got a 1gig CF and a 4gig CF, but since I plan to shoot in RAW I’ll need all the space I can get.

Overall, things seem to be shaping up well. I’d like to finish tagging and editing my backlog of photos before the wedding, so that I can have a clean slate when I get the influx of photos from the wedding. I’m up to March of 2008, so I should be able to finish tagging the photos, at least. Hopefully when I’m done editing and tagging all the photos, I can start uploading them to the gallery again; for various reasons I think I’ll be sticking with Gallery2 rather than Zenphoto, but that is for another post.

Review: How to Photograph Absolutely Everything

In preparation for Faith’s June wedding, and in a general attempt to improve my photographic skill, I decided to start borrowing books on photography from the library. With a title like How to Photograph Absolutely Everything, I figured Tom Ang’s book was a decent place to start.

For a new photographer, this book is extremely helpful. It gives tips on a broad variety of photographic subjects; pointers for weddings, portraits, children, vacation photos, and more. At the beginning of each section, Ang also gives some suggestions for camera settings to capture a given subject type. What’s more, the book is filled with large, full color photos to reinforce the tips.

However, if you’re anything other than a new photographer, this book might not be as helpful. It becomes clear rather quickly that this book is geared towards users with little experience, as the suggested camera settings at the beginning of each new section are often as simple as “use landscape mode on your camera.” As far as content goes, it gives a few pointers for each topic, but due to the broad nature of the book, lacks depth on any given subject. And while the book seems aimed at the newer, less experienced photographer, it doesn’t really cover the basics of photography.

What I would have loved to have seen was something a bit more informative as far as settings go. Perhaps including the EXIF data on sample pictures, so the reader has a better starting point. Or ignore the “camera mode” and stick to suggestions for aperture, shutter, focal length and sensitivity.

Overall, I think this book would make a lovely coffee table book, as the photos are quite lovely, and make up the bulk of the book. I might recommend it to a new digital photographer, or a film photographer just making the switch to digital. If you’re looking for a general reference book that is more inspiration than reference, this is probably the book for you. However, if you want more in depth information on any given subject matter, I’d keep looking.

Not Enough Hours in the Day

Ever have one of those days when you just have nothing to do? Or in my case, I have so many different things that I SHOULD be doing, that I can’t decide what to do, and end up doing nothing of value. I have so many projects in various states of completeness; too many, really. The current list stands as such (in order of priority);

  • Cross stitch birth sampler for my niece (who just turned 3)
  • Tag and organize the backlog of digital photos (currently I’m up to December of 2007)
  • Prepare for sister-in-law’s June wedding (I’m the photographer)
  • Update the online photo gallery, investigate other software options
  • Create digital address book (plans for software to generate reports and Christmas card labels)
  • Convert recipes to digital, add recently tested recipes
  • Work on denherder.net (blog up, but no content)
  • Knit baby blanket (also for my niece)

Of course, there are other projects to be added to the list. Once I finish Laurel’s birth sampler, I need to see about making a Peter Rabbit birth sampler for Marin. After I get all my photos tagged and organized, I was thinking about starting a photoblog, to give myself a reason to practice. I’d like to have my consolidated address book ready to go by this fall, so the mail merge labels are ready for Christmas cards.

Another project that has been floating around in the back of my mind has been a recipe blog. Once I get my recipes typed up into MasterCook, a cooking blog wouldn’t be too difficult. Each recipe would become a post; categories would be for recipe classification – beverages, cookies, breads, desserts, main dishes, etc. The tags could be used for ingredients, or perhaps other criteria (Bread Machine, Crock Pot, ethnicity of the dish, etc.). Of course, if the full text of the recipe is in the body of the post, you wouldn’t NEED ingredients as tags – you could simply search the blog to find a recipe that used buttermilk, for example. Pictures to accompany the recipe would be nice, too. Matt had a suggestion to rate the recipes on various criteria, as well; difficulty, tastiness, and how well it reheats. I do like the idea of giving some honest opinions on how a recipe keeps or reheats – some recipes are great, but don’t reheat terribly well in the microwave. And with any luck, I may have some friends willing to contribute to a recipe blog, so I wouldn’t bear the full weight of upkeep and posting.

Searching for a Camera Bag, part 2

So, after checking out some camera bags in-person, I’ve learned a few things. First of all, I really need to have a better idea of what all I plan to store in a camera bag, and how I plan to use it. That will give me a better idea of which camera bags to look at, so I can try them on for fit and comfort. Having said that, I did try on some camera bags in the store, to check out the fit.

The Tamrac Velocity 7x may be a decent camera bag for a guy, but I can’t recommend it to any female photographer. The strap goes from the left shoulder to roughly the right armpit; clearly women have a few things in the way, impeding the strap. It also felt rather “flappy” on my back, due to the position of the strap. Of course, it has a waist strap for stability, but that looks like it must be unclipped to rotate the bag around. Overall, it seemed like an ok bag, just not for me.

The Lowepro Slingshot 100 AW had a much better fit, for a sling bag. The shoulder strap goes from the left shoulder to roughly the right hip, so it stayed against my back much better than the Tamrac. It had a stability strap which buckled from the left hip to the main strap, but I thought the bag felt stable enough without the strap. I had a slight issue with one of the features of the Slingshot, though. When spun around to the front, the bag was positioned just under my ribs, to provide a platform for changing lenses or whatnot. It seemed a little high for my tastes, but I may have just had the strap too short. Also, the exterior accessory pouches aren’t as accessible while the bag is on, due to their orientation.

While I was at the camera shop, I also checked out the Lowepro Rezo 160. Yes, it’s a shoulder bag and not a sling bag, but it seemed nice. The top opens away from the body, so you can still access the camera without taking off the bag. It had a fair amount of space, and didn’t seem nearly as “box like” as my old camera bag.

After checking out the store, I can firmly say that I don’t want a Tamrac Velocity. I really like the look and feel of the Lowepro bags, but now I just need to decide which one I like best. The Rezo was easier to get on and off, and looks more traditional. The Slingshot was nice for the sling bag aspects; weight on the back more than shoulder, and the ability to have the bag on your back and out of the way, but quickly accessible. For everyday use, the Rezo would be perfect. However, if I want to bring my camera along on a bike ride, or wear it for long periods of time (like on a vacation), the Slingshot would probably be more comfortable.

Capacity is also going to be a concern. At this point, I don’t really have much gear; the Canon XT with kit lens, a spare CF card, a spare battery, the battery charger, a few filters, lens cleaning supplies and the manual. Obviously I want a bag with a little room to grow, but I don’t want to lug around a huge, unwieldy bag. I figure as far as lenses go, I may eventually get a mid-range zoom, a wide angle lens, a prime lens for portraits, and a macro lens. At some point I’ll probably also see about getting an external flash. Something that could accommodate the gear I have now, while still leaving space for some gear I plan to get eventually, would be great. Obviously, this means I’m going to need to further research the capacities of the camera bags I’m thinking about.

Searching for a Camera Bag

For Christmas, Matt got me a beautiful digital SLR (Canon Digital Rebel XT). It’s really nice, but now I need to get a case for it to keep it safe. Obviously it’s not going to fit in my old camera case – the old Powershot A610 just barely fit in there. I have the case from my old film SLR, but that is still occupied by the Minolta, and it’s not the greatest of cases anyway. I bought that case over 8 years ago, and at the time all I knew was that it had to hold my SLR. Experience has given me a better idea of what to look for in a bag.

For starters, I need a camera bag that is comfortable. The bag for my old film SLR is basically a big, unwieldy box on a strap. Functional, but not terribly comfortable. Also, I’d like to be able to to get the camera out without having to set the bag down to unload it. For that, I’m going to need a sling/messenger style camera bag. Something that I can carry the weight of on my back, but slide around to the front to access the camera.

Second, I want a bag that has a little room to grow. At the moment, I only have the kit lens for my DSLR, but hope to get another lens or two in the future. I don’t want to get a camera bag that is fitted to just the DSLR, because once I get more lenses or an external flash, I’ll have no where to put them. On the flip side, I don’t want to get a massive backpack style bag that I will never fill, as I’m trying to keep the camera bag mostly streamlined.

Those are the two most important criteria. Some of the other things I’m looking for seem fairly standard. For instance, I want the camera bag to be at least vaguely weatherproofed. It doesn’t have to survive a drop in a lake, but if I transport the bag of gear in a mist or light snow, I want the camera to stay dry. I also want a nice little pocket to store my spare memory card and battery pack. Space to stuff a little notepad might be convenient, in case there is anything important I need to remember about photos or locations.

I’ve been checking out some camera bags online, and the two bags that top my list right now are Adorama’s Slinger, and Tamrac’s Velocity series. Lee has a Slinger bag, and it seems to be quite nice – I’ve obviously not pawed through it, but he recommends it highly, and it meets all my criteria. I checked out the Velocity series online, and it looks like it meets all my criteria, but I would obviously want to check one out in person before I made my decision. I had at first considered Crumpler as I had heard that they were nice bags, but they look to be online only, and I find their website to be painfully obnoxious and unhelpful.

And a Happy New Year!

Christmas has come and gone, and I figure what better way to celebrate the New Year than by setting some New Years goals. Matt’s post on the matter gave me a little motivation; I figure if I post my resolutions online for all to see, I’ll be a bit more motivated to actually maintain them. And so, without further ado;

#1 – Get in better shape. While I wouldn’t mind slimming down a little, weight loss isn’t really my goal here. During the warmer months, we used to take a weekly 10 mile bike ride. In 2007 we didn’t go nearly as often; the heat, moving into a new apartment, and wedding planning all kind of got in our way. The few trips we did make, though, weren’t even for the full 10 miles, as we hadn’t kept in shape over the winter. My goal is to get back into shape, so that when warmer weather arrives we’ll be able to jump right back into the full 10 mile bike ride. We have the workout area in the clubhouse to use, and Matt’s friend Leonard gave us some exercises we can do without ever leaving the apartment.

#2 – Become a better photographer. Matt got me a fabulous digital SLR for Christmas, and I would love to be able to utilize it to it’s full potential. In order to become a better photographer, though, I need to practice. I was considering doing Project 365 (photo a day, not faces), but as January 1st has already passed, I wouldn’t be able to do it for the entirety of 2008. I could always start it mid-year, and still shoot for a year, just not a calendar year. Shooting a photo a day also brings up the question of what I will do with the photos; Flickr, Gallery2, or something else? For now, though, I’ll just focus on shooting the pictures; what to do with them after that can be a concern for later.

#3 – Finish what I start. I have a nasty habit of starting projects, and then putting them on the back burner, where they languish. I have at least 3 craft projects that were moved to the back burner, where they are for the most part, forgotten. I blame at least part of this on my discovery of feed readers – I spend a lot of time on the internet “catching up” on feeds that I ordinarily wouldn’t have read. What I’m trying to do is allow myself to catch up on my feeds once ( and ONLY once) a day. I may need to prune back the number of feeds I read, in order to make time to actually do things away from the computer.

Give Us Your Best Shot

It’s about that time again – time for the annual CostCo Photo Contest. I entered last year with one of my pictures from Japan; it was fun, but I didn’t win anything. I totally plan on entering again this year, I’m just not sure which photo I should enter; I have a few photos I’m a fan of. Supposedly the judges tend to lean towards “people” shots over landscape shots, but I’m listing some of my favorite shots, regardless.

Any thoughts or opinions? Maybe something else you saw in the gallery at some point, that you think is better? Let me know; the deadline is September 30th, so I have about a month before I need to make a final decision.

Photo-Blogging

Recently I’ve been on a photography kick. I’ve always liked photography – I took classes in high school and college, and had an old, fully manual, SLR for my high school photography class. I lost interest for a while, but am just starting to re-discover that interest.

In my rediscovery, I stumbled upon many websites on the subject of photography, and quite a few photoblogs. I really like the idea of a photoblog, and being able to categorize photos by subject type, rather than event. I even stumbled upon a nice photoblog host. It’s like a combination of LiveJournal and Flickr. My problem is – I have my WordPress blog, and my Gallery already. I’m not really interested in converting my blog into a photo-blog, despite the number of plug-ins that can easily convert a WordPress install into a photo-blog. And my gallery serves a purpose – I have photos arranged by event, mainly, so that friends and family can go find photos from events, should they desire. I could get an account at Animus3 and maintain that separately from my gallery, but I know myself too well; it might start out nice, but would become more trouble than it’s worth. That’s why I gave up on LJ; I have my WordPress blog, and didn’t see the point in maintaining 2 independent sites with the same content. What I need is a way to modify Gallery to provide a way to categorize photos by style, in addition to holding them in sub-albums arranged by event. I’ve already added a custom field to photos for “category” – I’m sure with Dynamic Albums in Gallery 2.2 I can work out a way to give visitors the option to browse the established albums, or browse dynamicly created albums, organized by category. Let’s see what happens.