Sunday, December 2, 2012

Beginner's Guide to Photography

Here's a list of few quick tips to take great photos :

Pre-requisites for this are :
- You have a DSLR camera (recommendations on which one to buy)
- You have the right lenses (recommendations on which ones to buy)

General Tips :

 - Number #1 thing for taking good photos is good composition. You either have the knack, or can develop one over time. You can learn a lot by following photos on or Google Plus. You can take great photos even with a cell-phone if you have a good composition.

 - Always take a steady shot. Check that the shutter speed of your shot is lower than 1/100th of a second. Your hand is likely to shake enough to cause blurring if you shoot with shutter speed more than that. If you intend to take a longer exposure use a tripod.

- Take as many photos as you want. Space is no longer a constraint in DSLRs. So keep clicking away. If you intend to post-process, select only the top 10% or so to post-process in order to save time.

- Post processing can make a significant difference to photos. I use Aperture on Mac. You can also use Lightroom. There are some free HDR softwares that come in handy. Pick any one, can't go wrong. Online editing is also excellent (eg. Picnik, now part of G+)

People Photography :

  - Good light makes all the difference, when taking photos of people. The ideal time is around 1-to-2 hours before sunset, and with the sun behind you when you are taking photos.

   - Use BokehMake the subject stand out ! Shoot at the lowest possible aperture (number) for maximum bokeh.

Sports Photography :

 - Pick the fastest shutter speed that you can. For sports, I often try to take a shot with no more than 1/1000th second for the shutter speed. At that speed, you can often get the moving objects (like ball, racquets) to come in focus.

- If you don't have a lens that lets you do the above, then increase the ISO. In most DSLRs these days, you can increase the ISO. This indirectly allows you to take the same photo at lower shutter speeds. On my nikon D7000, I often shoot upto ISO 3200 (but only at night), without noticing any graininess by increasing the ISO. Don't increase the ISO too much during daytime, you shouldn't have to.

- Use burst-mode settings in your camera. This lets you take many photos in quick succession and increases the chance of capturing the right moment.

Landscape Photography :

  - Use filters (specially polarizing ones). This is a must. All photos in this set were taken with a polarizing filter, making for crisper photos and bluer skies.

  - Time of day is very important in landscape photography. Just before and after sunset and just just before and after sunrise are the best times to take landscape photos. This makes a big difference. Avoid the beginners' mistake of going out to shoot landscapes at noon. You will get good photos even then, but not great.

  - Figure out how to take HDR photos on your camera and download any freely available HDR software. This makes for good photos. HDR software can make photos look unreal also.

  - Use a tripod and take the same photo with maximum aperture (number), eg f/22 (or atleast > f/8) . At these narrow apertures, you will need to use a tripod as you may not get a very short exposure time.

Wildlife Photography :

   Almost the same as sports photography (or so I think, as I havn't done much)

Night-time / Low Light Photography :

  - Always increase the ISO. I often shoot as ISO 800 or more, in low light. Do an experiment on your camera to see at what ISO the photos start getting grainy. That will tell you the upper limit you can go upto.

In case you want to follow what I am upto.

Nikon 14-24 mm f/2.8

I tried this lens recently. It is indeed very sharp and fun to use. The only downside is that because of it's curved lens, it won't take the regular filters that I already have. Here is a photo taken with this lens.

Overall the sharpness is better than other wide angle lenses, but lack of regular filters makes it hard to justify the price value. Regular wide angle lenses also take good photos as seen below.




While all of these are good photos, and the place is just fantastic, none of these photos have the kind of clarity that you one can see in some of the professional photos. And yes, I used a tripod and various filters (including a polarizing filter which is a must have ).

Nikon 24-70 mm f/2.8

This lens is expensive . Despite a lot of good reviews, this lens exemplifies why an expensive lens isn't always the best thing you can have. With a focal length of 24-70 lens, it can be used as a general purpose, wide angle or as a portrait lens. It can come in handy for a number of situations. At an aperture of f/2.8 it should work reasonably well in low light as well. However, I felt the prime lenses (which are way cheaper) tend to produce significantly better results.

I was not too excited by the results after having used this lens for an entire weekend.

Some photos :



Try it for yourself, but I would not buy this lens, even if I had the money.

Nikon 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6

This is a good affordable Zoom Lens. While it does not have VR (which can be quite handy) and is not as sharp as the 70-200 mm, it does zoom upto 300 mm. That can give you plenty of good shots ! I could even get some good photos of sports action with this lens :

Photo1 : Agassi returning a serve

Photo2 : Some baseball action.

This is a very sharp lens for the price and given it's range upto 300 mm, gives that extra zoom, which the optically superior 70-200 mm lens lacks.

This is perhaps the best starter zoom lens a beginner can have.

Nikon 70-200 mm f/2.8

A pricey lens. But worth the $$ if you have cash. The Bokeh is very smooth and the focus is very accurate. Used this over a weekend and have these photos to share :



This is a must have lens, once you have the cash.

Nikon 24 mm f/2.8

The Nikon 24 mm 2.8 is a good lens. However, being 24mm it is a wide-angle lens. Consequently you will not get that much bokeh with this lens.

After having used this lens for a while, I still don't have enough photos in which my 18-105 mm kit lens didn't do an equally good job.

Some examples of wide angle photos with the kit lens :



Some photos with the 24 mm (it does take good photos,  just not better enough to warrant getting the lens)



I would not recommend spending money on this one , as the results are not better enough compared to the Nikon kit lens.

Nikon 50 mm f/1.8D Review

This is the best lens one can have for the price. These is no excuse to not have this lens even for a beginner, unless you already have the 50 mm f/1.4. There is also the "G" version of the lens, which is ~$100 more. Both are very good !

This lens is very useful for

- low light photography
- portraits
- sports action (if you are close enough).

It is also a very light lens and very easy to carry around.

Here are some examples of excellent bokeh :




You can also attach a reverse-ring to this lens and make it a darn good macro lens as seen in this photo

Samyang 85 mm f/1.4 Review.

Very sharp and affordable lens. Great for situations where you have some time to fous (as this comes only in manual focus). If you do get that time, the results are very good !

Here's a photo from a concert I went to recently.

When shot at 1.4, it also can have a very shallow depth of field. Things that are jut a few inches off the focus point will get blurred out, as seen this photo. This makes this lens one of the best for bokeh. and at a price that is hard to beat.

Overall, if you are shooting a subject that's relatively stationary, this is an excellent lens.

Here are some sample photos shot at night. Notice the extremely pleasant bokeh.




Monday, November 26, 2012

What is Bokeh

Bokeh as described by Wikipedia is "the way the lens renders out-of-focus points of light". Different lenses render out of focus objects differently. Getting a lens with a very large aperture (same as very low f value) is essential for good bokeh.

Notice the out-of-focus areas in the following photos. That's bokeh.

I have a 50 mm 1.8 that is the most affordable lens and one of the best lens one can have. This is a must-have lens even for a beginner.

I have another 85 mm 1.4. This lens is excellent. But, be prepared for some manual focusing.

105 mm lenses are also available and some of the costly lenses are awesome ! However, you can get awesome results with the first 2 lenses I mentioned. So, buy this if you have lots of money.

Notice that all the lenses listed above are f/2.0 or less. Also, usually, the higher the mm, the more the bokeh. (As long as the main subject that's being focused is sufficiently close and the background significantly further).

All the lenses listed above are prime-lenses.  This means you can't zoom-in or zoom-out while taking the photo. You will have to move. This is hardly a problem, once you know prime lenses will give you the best results.

<pj>And then there is bookeh</pj>

What Lenses Should I Buy

After you have chosen whether to buy a full-frame (FX) or cropped-frame sensor (DX) body, you need to start off with a few lenses.

This is the million-dollar question in photography and even if you have that kind of money you have to be smart about which lens to use when. Also, I strongly recommend renting lenses before buying them (specially if they are expensive). The reviews below are for Nikon lenses, but there is always an equivalent Canon lens.

Most camera bodies come with a kit-lens. This is a general purpose lens that lets you get started. These lenses are ok, but almost always never great. My camera (Nikon D7000), came with a 18-105 mm lens. While I am still quite happy with the D7000, I find myself trying to avoid the 18-105 as much as possible and shoot with the other lenses that I bought subsequently.

I am splitting my lens reviews based on what you would like to shoot. A general purpose lens will let you do almost all that these specialized lenses will let you do, but the results are much-better most of the times with the specialized lens.

People Photography :

   To take close up photos of a single person or a couple, you will need a portrait lens. Portrait lenses usually produce great bokeh . Point and shoot lens will not produce Bokeh. This is the number #1 reason to get a DSLR. DSLRs produce outstanding photos of your kid, loved one.

   List of lenses that I recommend for people photography :

   Nikon 50 mm 1.8 prime
   Samyang 85 mm 1.4 prime
   Samyang 35 mm 1.4 prime (review coming soon ..)

Sports Photography :
   Unless right next to what or who you are shooting, you will need a fast zoom lens.

   List of lens I would recommend for sports photography :

   Nikon 70-200 mm f /2.8
   Nikon 70-300 mm

Landscape Photography :

  You can buy a dedicated landscape wide-angle lens. However, I've done most of my landscape photography with a kit lens and that also gives good results. Some photos that I've taken on a recent trip :  landscape photography. Landscape photography also requires the use of filters. (A polarizing filter is a must-have for landscape photography). Using polarizing filters makes for sharper photos and richer colors. I cannot emphasize the usefulness of polarizing filters for landscapes enough. Having these filters is more important than having the best wide-angle lens.

  Most landscape lenses are average-to-good and you can pick almost any one for good results. But for excellent results I would recommend the Nikon 14-24 mm (or so I have heard). If you just getting started and don't want to spend that kind of money, pick any lens that fits your budget that gives you 14mm focal length or less on the lower side. Lens less than 10 mm focal length are called fish-eye lenses and produce rounded images because of the angle of exposure. You will need a fish-eye in very rare cases, so you can pass on getting one right away. The kits lens that I have gives me a 18-105mm range. At 18 this is wide enough to take great photos (as long as I used the right filters).

Wildlife Photography :

  You will need a good zoom lens. Sometimes, what you are shooting is pretty close. Often 300mm zoom may not be enough as you may be quite some distance from the subject. Pick something that goes upto 400mm. (if not more).

Samyang 500 mm f/8 mirror lens (review coming soon ..)

Macro Photography :

  You will need a macro lenses for this (eg. taking a photo of an insect, but really close up). Other techniques like using a reverse-ring can also make a normal lens behave like a macro lens.

Night-time / Low Light Photography :

  You will need fast-lenes for this and sometimes a stand. The key is to either get a fast lens, or increase the ISO setting on your camera or both.

  I recommend any of the fast lenses below for good shots at night :

 Nikon 50 mm 1.8 prime
 Samyang 85 mm 1.4 prime
 Samyang 35 mm 1.4 prime (review coming soon .. )

Now that you have all the gear, read the beginner's guide to great photos.

Which Camera Should I Buy

The first question that needs an answer when one starts off as an amateur photographer is "Which Camera Should I Buy" ?

At this point in time  (Nov 26, 2012):  DSLRs produce the best results, in terms of picture quality. Mirrror-less cameras are taking off as well, but lack the breadth and quality of lenses that are available for DSLRs. Some point-and-shoots are good general purpose cameras as well, but there is always a combination of DSLR frame and lens that will produce a better image quality than a point and shoot for every shooting situation.

Among DSLRs,  there are several blogs/articles which talk in length about buying a Canon/Nikon/Sony/etc. While its worthwhile reading these, there seem to be a fairly equivalent choice of lens and frames on Canon and Nikon. You can buy either of these and not go wrong.

Choosing between a DX (cropped-frame) or a FX (full-frame) will be the next question. This depends purely on your budget. If you are just starting out and have money to spare, buy the FX. If you have been using the DX for a while and really like photography, buy an FX. For all other cases, get a DX camera. DX camera these days have enough pixles to have sufficient resolution in the images. The only limiting factor with a DX camera is that it crops the image that's produced by the lens. So, for the same lens with focal length "m" on an FX frame, the effective focal length on a DX frame will be approximately 1.5 times m. This means you will not get as wide an angle with DX frames as you will with FX. On the flip side, the same lens on a DX frame will give you more zoom automatically. If you are getting confused and don't understand what I just said - just buy a DX frame or just re-read this paragraph and then decide.

Remember : The lens matters more in the type and quality of the photos. So if you have cash to spare, get an FX, if you'd like to learn photography or save some money, get a DX camera.