• Photography Tips

    CAMERA CLUB TIPS -a beginners guide

    Compiled for Camera Clubs By Wedding Photographer Michael McGrath
    The Camera
    To get the best out of any camera club you first of all need to have a good D.S.L.R. camera. So what exactly should you be looking for in a camera. Here are a few pointers for you to consider. I have picked what I feel are the three most important things to look for when investing in a camera. Any camera that conforms to these three recommendations will also have good flash capabilities as standard.
    1. Sensor megapixel size should be at least 12, and most good cameras will now have this as standard. You should be able to get an up to 16 megapixel sensor camera for not very much more money. The larger the megapixel size the better your image quality.
    2. The iso range of the camera should be at least from 100 to 800, although 100 to 1600 or higher would be better
    3. The lens should be changeable and have a smallest aperture of f22. Otherwise you will loose out a lot on picture quality. A shorter zoom lens of say 28-135 or less will prove to be far more useful and give you better shaper images than a more impressive sounding 28-300.The lens that I use for most of my wedding photography is a canon 24-70 f2.8.
    Two good cameras for you to check out:- Nikon D3300 approx €480, & Canon EOS 1300 approx €500. When you buy your camera get a U.V. protective filter for the front element of the lens.  But don’t buy a cheap filter, get yourself a good brand they usually cost around €30 or more. A cheap proactive filter will only dull the quality of your photos and may even effect the auto focus system in your lens. With this protective filter on your lens you should not need to “wet” clean the front element of your lens very often. If you need to clean your lens do not use wet alcohol based wipes. You should only dry clean your lens with a “lenspen” brush. Wet cleaning your lens will over time, damage its coating. You should in any case need to wet clean the protective filter and not the front lens element. You should also get an extra camera battery or a couple of sets of high grade rechargeable batteries. These should be at least 2700 mah or higher. After spending a lot of money on your camera don’t invest in cheap memory cards get a good quality card for your camera. I use Sandisk or lexar Cards myself. You should not use a card for more than five years. When you buy one write the date on it. They don’t suddenly stop working after five years, but by keeping them updated you will always be sure of your picture quality. Your camera will come with one very important piece of kit, the camera instruction book. Read it learn how every button and camera setting works. It may take you weeks to go through it and you might think that you will never use all of these settings, but the day will come when you will want even more from your camera. Do not keep your camera instruction book in a drawer at home, it should always be in your camera bag. If you have any problems or there is something that you don’t understand, just ask us at our camera club meetings or at one of our more informal get togethers or outings. Remember when it comes to photography there is no such thing as a stupid question. There are only stupid people who won’t ask questions. In photography there are not many nevers or don’ts, but here is one that you should keep in mind. Never attach or remove anything from your camera without first turning it off. This goes for lenses, memory cards and flashguns. Back to top of page
    A good tripod should be able to take a camera’s weight and hold it steady when extended up to your eye level. So before you buy a tripod put your camera on it and check it out. Manfrotto and Benbo make great tripods, with a good selection of “heads” to choose from. Why not talk to other members of your camera club about the type of tripod they use and why they use it. There is very little point in having a tripod without getting a cable release for your camera. Back to top of page
    The Exposure Meter
    All camera meters hate colour, they do not see the world as having blues, reds, yellows, greens etc, as far as your camera meter is concerned there is only one colour in the world and that is a shade of gray called 18% gray. Thats how the light meter in your camera works, it tries to turn everything into this 18% gray. Thats why when you take a snowscape photo with your camera set on auto, the snow will come out as gray in your photo. 90% of the time your exposure meter will work fine and give you great photos. However there are those few occasions when we need to exposure compensate to get that perfect photograph. For snowscapes, to get those perfect whites you will need to set your camera to overexpose the image by one and a half stops. For seascapes and photos of stone covered landscapes like the Burren try underexposing the image by one stop. What I am saying is there is no one perfect exposure for a photograph. So why not set up your camera to auto compensate { bracket } your photos by a least ½ stop over and a 1/2 stop under for each photo that you take. This is a handy way of making sure that you do not miss out on that perfect exposure when photographing in jpeg. For a near perfect exposure you could of course invest in a hand held light meter, or an 18% gray card to take your camera light meter readings from. But this is getting into the realms of advanced photography and not what these tips are meant to be all about. In your cameras set up menu you will be given a few options for setting up your light exposure meter. They might be, 1 evaluative or multipoint, 2 centre area, 3 spot metering, and 4 centre weighted average. “Centre Weighted Average” is by far the best all-round setting to choose as it will give you a good average light reading for most photography situations. Centre area is the preferred setting for most sports photographers. Its also the default light meter setting on most cameras, because most people when taking a photograph, will always put their subject in the centre of the camera screen. But we know better than that, don’t we!. Spot metering is a setting for photographers who are experts in light, light metering, and its use. So unless you know exactly what you are doing do not choose this setting. Back to top of page
    Picture Quality
    While “RAW” is the highest quality setting on a digital camera, most club members shoot their images as jpeg and you can greatly improve your image quality by knowing how to set up your camera for high quality jpeg photography. The very first thing you need to do is turn off your auto white balance { AWB } you will find that with most cameras, taking  jpeg photos with the AWB left on is like taking photos through a dirty window.. You get what I call a”gray mist” over your image that dulls down what should be vibrant colours in your photographs. So get used to setting your camera to the type of light that you are working in. This will greatly improve your picture quality. You can see this “gray mist” for yourself by taking a landscape photo in daylight with your camera set to auto white balance. Then take the same photo with your cameras white balance set to “daylight”, compare the two and see the difference. In fact you will find that just leaving your white balance set to “Daylight” will work fine for almost all of your photography, including flash. Learn how to set your cameras custom white balance, you will someday need to use this setting, but just for the moment learn how to set it. Even though I always shoot RAW I still use custom white balance for the majority of my wedding photographs. Custom White Balance:- When setting your custom white balance its important to use the correct camera exposure for the room or light that you plan to photograph in. An easy way to do this is to set your camera to auto white balance, and to a high ISO of around 400. On aperture priority, select a mid range aperture of f8. Take an available light photograph showing a wide-angle overall view of the room that you plan to work in. Now take note of the shutter speed that your camera selected for this photograph and with your camera set to manual, set f8 and this shutter speed. Now take a photograph of a white object. Go to your cameras menu and select custom white balance and use this photo to set the white balance. An 18% gray card, if you have one, will give a more accurate white balance setting. Once you have set your white balance, select custom white balance from your cameras white balance menu and retake the room photo. You should now see a big difference in image colour quality. This should prove to you once and for all that A.W.B. just does not work properly. The {Sunshine} “Daylight” {5200K} symbol on your cameras white balance menu dos not mean bright daylight. It just means DAYLIGHT any type of daylight from very cloudy to bright sunshine even up to sunset. The “Shaded Light” {7000K} symbol refers to summer shade in the Mediterranean witch has a strong blue colour tint to it, and not at all to our softer Irish sunlight.  The ” Cloudy” {6000K} setting refers to the type of  blue tinted light we get in that last twilight hour of light after the sun sets. So then, the terms Sunshine, Shaded Light, and cloudy do not refer to weather conditions. They are just names given to different preset “kelvin colour temperature” settings. Kelvin is numbered scale, In photography its mostly used from 2,000 {red} to10,000 {blue} to measure light colour temperature. Going form the red colour cast of candle light to the deep blue of dusk. All colour casts can be corrected by setting your camera to the correct kelvin number. For the moment just be aware that your digital camera works on the colour temperature of light. Most of your photography will be done on either the daylight {5200K} or flash {6000K} camera settings. I will go into a bit more detail when we get to flash photography. Having said all that, the best all-round white balance setting is “DAYLIGHT”, even for flash photography!. Now choose “L” your cameras highest quality jpeg setting. Next set the lowest iso that you can for the subject that you are photographing. Start with your camera set at 100 iso and if you can not get the shutter speed and aperture combination that you need, only then increase it. The lower your iso setting the better your picture quality. We next move on to your other image quality settings, contrast, sharpness an colour saturation. Do not be afraid to play around with these settings to find the setting that best suits your photography style. The default setting for these three settings is usually in the mid range on your camera. Your camera might give you some preset contrast, sharpness and colour saturation options like for landscape or portraits. These are good and useful settings, but knowing how and why to set each one individually will give you greater image control when photographing in JPEG. Back to top of page
    This is the setting thats going to give you denser colours, bluer skies, better cloud detail and more punch to your landscape photos. But it will also burn out fine detail if set too high. Lets say that you are taking a photo of a young girl in her first communion dress. If you move your contrast setting above the mid setting you are going to burn out the fine detail on the dress. However if you were to use this mid setting for landscape photos your colours would look dull and washed out. So in photos where fine detail is more impotent than punchy colours you will need to keep your contrast set to mid or lower. High contrast settings work great for seascapes, photos of ruins and sunsets. Just keep in mind that what you gain in picture density and punch you loose in fine detail and mid tones with a high contrast setting. Back to top of page
    This is a ” does exactly what it says on the tin setting “. Lets go back to our first communion girl. While we do need sharpness to bring out the fine detail on her dress, we don’t want it set too high to ruin her lovely soft skin features. So perhaps just one click above the mid setting and no more would suit this photo. Again landscapes usually need more punch and sharpness, try a setting about half way between mid and full. Do be careful of setting your camera to full sharpness as it can give your image a very surreal effect. But its only by taking some photos on full sharpness setting that you will get to know how your camera works on this setting. A full sharpness setting works great for photos of fireworks, sunsets or landscape photos that are to be printed in the local press. As so much image quality and sharpness is lost when printing a photograph in a newspaper, some press photographers use their full sharpness setting to great effect, even when photographing people. Back to top of page
    Colour Saturation
    For photographing people you will need to keep your colour saturation at mid or just above mid range. Setting it above this is going to get you some very red faces. So then for natural looking skin tones keep your colour saturation to around the mid area setting. Landscape photography will need more colour saturation than when photographing people. Set it to about half way between mid and full setting. Full colour saturation works great for photographing fireworks, sunsets and autumn colour or any image where colour intensity plays a key part in the image. Your camera might also give you a colour tone option, Do not touch this setting unless you know exactly what your are doing and why you are doing it. Back to top of page
    The Shutter
    Most people think that the way to take a good photograph is to press the button on top of the camera. Big mistake, when handholding a camera you don’t press the shutter, you squeeze, hold, and release it. In fact when you feel the shutter engaging say the word hold to yourself and then release the shutter button. This simple tip will improve your picture composition and image sharpness. The slowest shutter speed that should be used for hand holding a camera is 100 of a second. On a fine day for outdoor handheld shots I use my camera set on shutter priority at 200sec with an ISO setting of 200. OK so I do a few more things to my camera and you will learn these as your knowledge of photography improves. But if you can, always use a tripod and the slowest shutter speed and ISO setting that your subject will allow. Back to top of page
    Or the area of your photograph that is going to be in sharp focus. The smaller your aperture number setting, { or largest lens opening } say f2.8, the least amount of the image is going to be in sharp focus. The higher your aperture number setting, { or smallest lens opening } f22 the more image sharpness or “depth of field” you are going to get. Personally, I have a simplified way of using my camera aperture. I use f8 for photographing people and f22 for landscape photography. Of course there is much more to aperture than that, but if you are looking for a nutshell answer thats it. You will find that f5.6 at 400 iso or higher is a really good setting for flash photography. For handheld landscape shots f11 will give you a good combination of image quality shutter speed { keep an eye on your shutter speed } and a lower iso setting. The rest you will have to learn from practice. Back to top of page
    You could of course just leave your lens set on auto focus and get good photographs, or try out some of the tips listed below. There are times when you will or might need to turn your auto focus off and you will learn about this in time as you get to know more about your camera, and talk to our club members. For example, when photographing fireworks, turn your auto focus off and set your lens focus point to infinity, with your camera set to manual, set your iso to 400, your aperture to f11, and shutter speed to twenty seconds. Try it if you get a chance, it works, but only with your camera on tripod. Fireworks are a background subject. What I mean is that they need an interesting foreground focal point to make any image of fireworks come to life. Don’t forget that for all long exposures you should cover your cameras eye viewer with a piece of dark cloth, or a cupped hand {not touching the camera} to stop any stray light from ruining your image. One important thing to be aware of about focus is that when your lens focuses on a subject, 1/3 of the image depth of field {or total image area of focus} will be in sharp focus in front of that point and 2/3 of the depth of field behind that point will also be in focus. So thats why portrait photographers focus on the eyes and usually use an aperture of f5,6. Landscape photographers will mostly use f11-f22 for good depth of field, and the experienced ones will manually focus their cameras on a point in front of the subject they want to photograph. This is because they don’t want 2/3 of their image focus or depth of field to be behind the subject. They want the maximum image focus area to be up front of their subject. This type of image focusing {hyperfocal distance} works great with a wide-angle lens at f22, and its the way that I take almost all of my landscape photographs. Back to top of page
    Hyperfocal Distance
    Sounds complicated, but its just a way of moving that 2/3 of focused image from behind the subject to the area in front of the lens. Digital cameras have made using the hyperfocal distance method a lot easer and a lot more accurate than film cameras ever were. Here is a simplified and easy to use method for this type of image focusing. To make hyperfocal focusing work you need to be using a 28 or wider lens at aperture f16-22. With your camera on tripod, compose the photograph. Now imagine that the area from the camera lens to the subject is divided into three equal sections. Set your lens to manual focus and focus on the first 1/3 point from the camera. Usually when attempting to do this there is nothing to focus the lens on in front of the camera. So to solve this problem I take my camera off the tripod and move away that approx 1/3 distance, I place a marker on the ground and focus my lens back on the tripod. I then replace the camera back onto the tripod and take the photograph. Now using this image I can check the focus by zooming in on the background and foreground of the photograph. If the background subject is out of focus I go back to the marker and move it further away from the tripod and try again. If the background is in sharp focus but the foreground is blurred then move your marker closer to the tripod. This as I said, is just an easier way of finding the hyperfocal distance focal point. For panoramic views that need some foreground detail I tend to just focus on a point about ten meters from my lens at f22 and this mostly works fine for me. Back to top of page
    If you are a new member to any club you will hear a lot of talk about composition. So what exactly is good photo composition. The basics of good composition can be explained very simply, but it can also be as complicated as you want to make it. For the simplified composition explanation, take a look at the rectangular shape of your camera screen. Now draw this shape much bigger on paper. One of the most basic guidelines on composition comes from landscape photography. Its recommended that the horizon line of a photograph should not appear up any higher than one third of the picture area from the bottom of this rectangle. Also the horizon line should also not come down any lower than one third from the top of the rectangle. So draw two lines that will divide your rectangle into three equal sections. Now turn your paper around and repeat this in the upright position, as the same rules applies to upright landscape photos. You now will have a rectangle that has been divided into three sections both upright and horizontally. these lines show how high up or low down your photographs landscape horizon should be. Now your landscape horizon line can be much lower than the one third mark but not as a rule higher. In other words don’t have your horizon in the centre of the photograph. There is one exception to this rule. Photographs of reflections can have the horizon centered. But the guideline here is that there should be slightly more reflection than subject. Lets get back to our rectangle divided now into nine parts. Take a look at the four points in your rectangle where the 1/3 dividing lines intersect each other. This is the recommended area of your photograph where your subject or image focal point should be. To give it its proper name this is called ” the intersection of thirds “. So when taking a photograph this is the guideline grid pattern that you should keep in mind. Some cameras have this grid pattern superimposed on the viewing screen to make composition that much easier. This on screen grid pattern will also be a great help in keeping your horizon line level and your uprights, upright. For good composition you should also think about foreground, middle ground and background. But this is something that you are going to learn a lot more about by being a member of our club. Back to top of page
    Your Camera Sensor
    When I invested in two Canon 5D Mark 2 cameras in 2010 I said that I would never try cleaning their image sensors myself. But after discovering that it costs €80 to have a sensor cleaned I very quickly changed my mind on that. You are after all not cleaning the sensor, but the sensor coating, and this is made to be cleaned. Go on line and you will find out all the information that you will need to know about sensor cleaning, some of it is a bit daft!. To find out how dirty your sensor is, set your camera iso to 100, and on aperture priority set f22, then go out and take a photo of the sky. You might have to turn off your lens auto focus to do this. It dos not have to be a clear sky just make sure that there are no birds flying past. This is the best and easiest way of showing up dirt on your sensor. Its best to view this image on your computer screen. Dirt will show up as dark gray or blue spots on your sky photos. You will find that the recommended way of showing up dirt on your sensor is to photograph a white card or sheet. But I have found that the sky, for me, works much better. Always ensure that your camera battery is fully charged before you start cleaning your sensor. A hand bulb air-blower will only remove light dry dust particles from your sensor, this should always be used before you start your wet clean. Never blow, “haw” or use compressed air on the sensor to clean it. I have found that a wet clean is the only way that really works in cleaning a camera sensor. To clean my sensor I use sensor cleaning swabs, and you can usually only get these form a city camera shop. Most of these camera shops offer a sensor cleaning service and they will encourage you to avail of their cleaning service, and not buy swabs. You will need to get the correct size swab for your camera, a box of 12 costs around €65 from Dublin camera shops. However once you find out the correct size swap for your cameras sensor, go on line and you will get them much cheaper. Its recommended that you use these swabs only once, but I don’t do that for light dust sensor spots, they are just too expensive to discard after one use. I do however only use them once for each cleaning session and then store them in their plastic bags until they dry, and use them about a further ten times.  These swabs need to be used with “eclipse optic cleaning fluid”, only a drop or two is needed on the swab tip to properly clean your sensor. Once you moisten the swab hold it for ten seconds before using it to clean your sensor. You will of course have to take another sky photo after each cleaning attempt. So far this cleaning routine has worked well for me with no adverse effects on my cameras sensors. As to whether you should follow my example, is a decision that only you alone can make. Back to top of page
    Flash Photography
    What we are trying to do with flash photography is to simulate daylight using a powerful strobe light that lasts for about 1/10,000 sec. For best flash photography results with a single on camera flash unit use iso 400 or higher at f5.6, { f5.6 gives a good useable depth of field for 50m/m or wider lenses } this setting uses less battery power and gives good background light detail. If your camera has a built in flash, usually setting it to over expose by ½ a stop gives better results. Or take a photo, if it looks dark push the flash over exposure or iso up until you get the exposure that you want. Don’t forget that flashguns that attach to your camera not only have an auto setting and an overexposure option, they also have a full power manual setting [ 1/1 ] that will give you more light, but this will use up a lot of battery power. Most good D.S.L.R. cameras will now have auto T.T.L. flash, if you have this feature on your camera here is a setting that should work well for your flash photography. With your camera set to “manual”, set your white balance to “flash” or “cloudy” as both settings have the same 6000K rating. You will need to check out how your camera works on “Flash” before you think of changing this white balance setting. Set your stutter speed to 1/125, { for handheld photography }, ISO to 400, aperture to f5.6 and set the flash to overexpose by ½ a stop. This setting works well for most close range indoor flash photography. For best flash photography images get a flashgun with a swivel head and always try bouncing or diffusing your flash, and if you can use your tripod and a shutter speed of 1/20th sec this will give you brighter background light. If you find that you are getting a yellow/orange colour cast on your flash photographs when your camera is set to “Flash”{6000K} try lowering the kelvin number setting. You can do this simply by changing your white balance to “Daylight” {5200K} Or for better skin tones with indoor flash photography, especially if you tend to bounce your single on camera flash, as I do, select “K”{kelvin} on your white balance menu and set it to 4800, not all cameras have this feature. Using a combination of a high iso 400 to 800 and a fairly wide aperture of f5.6 will give good results and use less flash battery power. The “Daylight” {5200K} white balance setting which you might think should not work for flash photography actually can give you much better skin tones than the recommended {6000K} “Flash” setting when using diffused flash. But I get my best indoor flash skin tone results by bouncing my flash off a wall, ceiling or a straight up white card, and having my white balance set to “DAYLIGHT” 5200K. Flash is something that you are just going to have to play around with to find the best settings for your camera. Just to sum up:- For flash photography start with your white balance set to “FLASH”, 6000K. If you find that this setting is giving you an orange/yellow colour cast to your photographs try changing down to “DAYLIGHT”, 5200K and you should see an improvement. If you are still getting a colour cast set your white balance to “K”and set 4800K. You could also try lowering this down to “Fluorescent” white balance @ 4000K and if that does not work then you may have some other problem with your camera or flash. E-Mail me one of your photographs. Being a member of any camera club will open your eyes to a whole word of flash photography options. Back to top of page
    Night / Dusk Photography
    My personal approach to night or lowlight photography is to start with my camera set at iso 100, and my aperture set to f22. Night and low light photography requires very long exposures with your camera set at iso 100. As a rule you should always cover your camera eye viewer with your cupped hand { not touching the camera } or a piece or dark cloth to stop any stray light from getting in to your camera. I keep my sharpness set to almost high with colour saturation set to high, and contrast set to between mid and its highest setting. As for white balance, I would start with it set to “Daylight” and consider changing it down to “Tungsten” if I were photographing in a brightly light town or city after the sky goes dark blue. There are no hard and fast rules for this type of photography. Have some fun and do not be afraid to play around with your camera settings. But you will get your best “Night Time” photographs at dusk, at that time of day when the sky turns dark blue, and there is still enough light to give some detail to the skyline in your photographs. Most people make the mistake of waiting until it gets very dark to start their night time photography. Take note of the sunset time, your best evening light shots will start to happen from 30min to one hour after sunset. Watch the sky when it turns dark blue and you can still see the outline of buildings this is your best light for evening photography. For evening light town photos, when the sky starts to turn dark blue this is the point where you should change your white balance down to “Tungsten” to help counteract that very orange colour cast on your photos. Its also the point where you will have to increase your iso to around 400. In this low light your exposures might be around 30sec at f22,  I would now consider opening the aperture to f16 or changing my camera setting to “B”  and doing some one or two minute exposures rather than increasing the iso any higher than 400.   Once you can no longer see the outline of roofs in your photos your its too dark. The window of opportunity for “night time” photography lasts for only around 30min, so pick your subject carefully and wait for that very dark blue sky. PHOTOGRAPHING FIREWORKS:- Because fireworks events tend to happen in or near towns or cities I would set my white balance to “Tungsten” to compensate for the orange colour cast of town lights. Set “Sharpness”, “Colour Saturation and “Contrast” to full. Turn your auto focus off and set your lens focus point to infinity. Using a tripod, set your camera to “M” aperture to f11, iso to 400 and exposure to 20sec. Remember cover your eye viewer to stop light from getting into your camera and dulling the image. Next find a ground based focal point, dont just point your camera up at the sky. This is a good basic starting point that always works. Back to top of page
    The most important filter that you will ever buy is the protector filter for the front element of your lens, but don’t make the mistake of getting a cheap filter. A good quality polarizing filter will prove very useful, and good ones cost around €80 or more. After that its up to yourself, there are lots of fun filters on the market. Landscape photographers will come to realize that using a good set of glass, Lee neutral density filters will greatly improve their images. But these high quality hand made filters are very expansive, €300 or more for a set. After some time, when photographing in jpeg is no longer giving you the results you want from your camera you will want to move on to shooting in RAW. This is going to open up a whole new field of photography options and extra expense as you will now need a good computer with photo editing software. But by taking care with your camera settings in jpeg you will achieve near enough the same results as photographers who shoot raw. However you will find that having a computer with even basic photo editing software is an essential piece of kit for all digital photography. Always approach photography with a very open mind,observe, question, and don’t be afraid to try out new camera settings. Back to top of page I am willing to answer questions that you might have, just E-Mail me on michael@michaelmcgrathphotography.com or if you would like a PDF copy of my full set of tips, just ask for “Photography Tips”.