Three tips to improve flash photography

The use of flash is critical when shooting in limited ambient light and many photographers try to minize usage due to discomfort.  They set their camera in automatic mode (P in Canon parlance), pop-up the small embedded flash and just shoot away. The resulting images usually do not meet expectations and the photographer may wonder why.  The three tips in this post can dramatically improve the situation.

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One of my colleagues is in the process of buying a Digital Rebel XT. This is my current favorite camera. I am sure that my colleague will ask about what format of picture to take. Well Steve, this is for you.

There are couple of different formats that you can take with the Digital Rebel XT and equivalent Digital SLR cameras. Their are typically two different formats that you can take, JPEG or RAW. Pretty much all cameras take JPEG and RAW is something quite different. Read on for more information.

JPEG — This is the standard format used by most digital cameras. JPEG is a lossy format meaning that when the picture is taken and the camera creates the JPEG some of the image data will irreparably lost. This may not seem like a big deal but if you then edit the JPEG and then re-save it, you lose more detail. Thus every time you edit a JPEG and re-save the image as a JPEG the quality will degrade.

There is a an upside to JPEG which is that it is the most commonly used and understood format and can be viewed in any standard web browser. The other element is that the resulting file sizes are smaller than alternatives because of the lossy nature of the algorithm.

Pros: Well understood and easily viewable, small file size
Cons: Reduced image quality, image degradation when editing

RAW — This format is a lower level format. When you a take a picture, the sensor in the camera captures the image on its sensor and the sensor outputs the image information. In a JPEG environment, that output is then processed in camera and turned into a JPEG. The RAW file contains all of the raw from the sensor with no processing. Thus it contains all of the possible image data from the sensor and is the highest resolution image possible from the sensor.

Also because the image has not been processed inside the camera, you can fix common image problems much more easily. An example of this is improper white balance which often occurs with digital cameras. The result is that the colors in a picture are skewed and you may see a bluish tint. This is easily fixed with RAW images and is more difficult to treat with JPEG.

The downside of RAW is that it is a proprietary format for each camera manufacturer. Thus if you shoot a RAW photo and send the RAW picture to someone, it is unlikely that person will be able to view the file. This means that some element of post-processing will be required with all RAW images to convert them to a more common image format such as JPEG.

Pros: Highest resolution image, improved image editing ability
Cons: Proprietary format, larger file size than JPEG

For the average photographer JPEG is adequate. However, if you are looking for the best image quality you should look at RAW. The Digital Rebel XT also has the ability to simultaneously take RAW and JPEG. This potentially overcomes the weeks of RAW, but results in more than 2x the required storage space for each picture which is problematic IMO.

I generally find shooting RAW to be the preferred method. I always take RAW and then perform a batch conversion of all RAW photos to JPEGs using Photoshop. This way I always have RAW and JPEG version of all pictures. I prefer to perform the conversion on my computer to minimize the amount of space required on my CF Card.

The three legs of exposure

I posted previously about the importance of exposure and metering in photography.  Metering is the algorithm that is used to decide how to expose the picture.  The camera then chooses the camera settings to achieve the optimal result based on what the meter tells it to do.  When adjusting exposure, there are three key elements that can be modified.  In another post, I will go into more details on these.

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I recently received a tripod for my camera as a gift.  Digital photography is a hobby of mine and I only recently recognized that a tripod might be useful.  Now that I have one, I can tell you that it is a very valuable addition to the photographer’s kit.  Let me explain why.

When using a camera you are limited by the minimum shutterspeed you can choose to avoid camera shake.  If camera shake occurs, the result will be a blurry photo.  Image stabilization can help solve this problem somewhat, but still is only a partial solution.  A tripod solves this problem; with it you can set any shutterspeed offered by the camera.

Access to slower shutterspeeds may not seem like a big deal, but it is.  It allows you to do all kinds of interesting things that were not possible hand holding.  It also allows for you to take two of the same shots that differ only by exposure.  This is a requirement for high dynamic range photography.

I highly recommend the addition of a tripod to any serious photographers kit.


Point and Shoot vs Digital SLR

I just posted about a comparison between a Point and Shoot and Medium format camera.  After thinking about it, I realized that I have never defined what a point and shoot camera is and contrasted that with digital SLR.  In the sections below, I will discuss these two types of cameras and the differences between them.  I will provide some key considerations when choosing between them.

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