How good are your habits?

Top level sportsmen get there by developing good habits

Habits

“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

It is so important to develop good habits for anyone, but I am going to talk specifically about photographers. What are the habits that you NEED to develop if you want to have a photography business.  These habits also apply to amateur photographers, but the consequences, whilst heartbreaking, are not as financially crippling.

Heartbreaking, crippling – strong words.  Hype or fact – you decide.

Backups:

You must, must, must backup regularly.  How often is regularly? In my opinion it is after you have downloaded your images from a shoot.  For some that is once a week, for others that is every day and for some it is a number of times per day.  A number of times per day? I’m joking tight? NO.  I use Lightroom for editing my photos.  When I import my images into Lightroom, I tick the box that says “Make a second copy to:” and as I copy my images onto the local hard drive (I ALWAYS use copy, NEVER use move) I simultaneously make a second copy to an external hard drive.

Only then, once I have 2 copies of my files will I delete the originals from the camera.

Once a week I then backup my hard drives to another external hard drive.

You need to understand the difference between “copy” and “backup”.  In a nutshell, a copy allows you to simply copy the image and restore it wherever you like.  It is simply a copy and paste or cut and paste operation.  A backup however requires you to use a specific programme to restore your images because they are not just copies of the original.

So, make sure you do your backups regularly but also make sure you know how to restore your files.

Developing this habit was driven home to me when I lost a few hundred files.  At the time I was simply making a backup once a week and I wasn’t making a copy as I import the files.  I figured I wasn’t doing that much new work, maybe 3 or 4 shoots a week, no big deal.  Unfortunately, one night my computer went “bang” and just stopped working.  One of the shoots I lost contained some of the most popular shots I have ever taken.  I was devastated.  Not only that, but some months later I was looking for some shots from another shoot and only then realised that I had lost them as well.

Look after your gear:

Been down the beach, loving the shoot and having a great old time.  Salt, sand, wind – a good idea to give your camera and lenses a good clean afterwards.  Regular routine maintenance is a good habit to form.  Give your lenses a wipe with a soft cloth, give your camera a good clean, blow the dust out (I never use a brush or anything that is even mildly abrasive) with a blower – you can buy them at any camera store for a few dollars or you can even buy a small portable vacuum cleaner that blows – never try to suck the dust out as you risk damaging sensitive electronic equipment.

Cleaning your sensor?  You can buy a kit to do it yourself, but I prefer to get it done professionally.  Yes, it is not that hard (apparently) but I don’t want to risk causing any damage.

If you live in a tropical climate, like I do, it is a good idea to take the lenses that you don’t use all that often and put them in the sun for 15-30 minutes every week or so to stop mould and fungus growth.  One of the worst things you can do in a hot and humid climate is keep your lenses packed away in a dark cupboard – you are asking for fungus.  Then you can have a big problem with a big $$$ tag.  I once had fungus in a lens and it cost me $180 to get it cleaned.  They told me I was lucky it did not get into the lens any deeper or it would have been about $800.  Considering it was a $2,500 lens, I would have had to get it fixed.

Shoot regularly:

Sometimes you just forget to go out and shoot or decide it’s not worth the effort.  Even if you don’t have a particular project in mind make yourself go out and shoot something.  It is easy to get into the habit of NOT going out and as we all know, practise makes perfect so you want to make sure you shoot as often as you can.  I so often meet people that say “Oh it’s been so long since I took my camera out I can’t remember what to do” you want to make sure that’s not you because I assume if you are reading this post, then you are interested in photography.

Batteries:

When you come back from a shoot – put your batteries on charge straight away.  That way every time you want to go out, you know you have full batteries.  If you have a spare, use them in rotation.  If you leave a battery too long with no use, they can develop a false memory – they think they are flat when nearly fully charged.  If this does happen, discharge them completely a few times and often that will solve the problem and it happens more with older batteries.  I have a battery grip in my camera so both batteries get equal usage all the time.

Battery Grip

Battery Grip

Memory Cards:

Look after your cards – get a decent card holder so that they are not rolling around in your bag.  Even though they may be in the little plastic case that comes with the card, these end up opening if left loose in your bag and you risk damaging the card.  Apart from the cost, there is nothing worse than being in the middle of a shoot and needing to change cards and the card doesn’t work.

It is also a good idea to format your cards regularly.  Always format your cards in camera, never on your computer.  The reason is sometimes the drives are slightly differently aligned and can cause a problem.  What is the difference between deleting and formatting?  When you delete a file, you actually only delete the entry in the index and this frees that space up for another file.  This is why you can recover files even if they have been deleted unless the area of the card has been overwritten with a new file.

When you format a card, the entire index is wiped (quick format) or the individual file space is wiped (full format).  Generally, in camera you only have 1 format option and as I said before, never format your cards in the computer, always use the camera.

Some people recommend formatting every time instead of deleting.  Personally, I delete my files and then every month or so I format all my cards – a habit I’ve formed.  I don’t think it makes a huge difference whether you delete or format – if you prefer to format every time, go for it.

When it comes to cards – buy the best brand you can and buy the fastest transfer rate you can.  The faster the transfer rate, the sooner the camera will be ready for the next shot.  This is particularly noticeable when in burst mode.

Sandisk SD card

Buy the best brand you can afford

Conclusion:

Spend time developing good habits and breaking bad habits.  It is a conscious decision you need to make – bad habits tend to creep in without you noticing – normally because skipping some regular things (like backups) save a bit of time and it’s not until you have a disaster that you really appreciate the need for good habits.

Remember

“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

Eungella, sleepy, pristine, beautiful…and really hard to say!

Eungella National Park

Eungella – it’s an Aboriginal word meaning “Land in the Clouds” and it’s pronounced young-gella.

Eungella is about an hour’s drive west of Mackay – through the beautiful Pioneer Valley.  You leave Mackay and go through or past some lovely spots like Marion, Pinnacle (good pub with great pies) and Finch Hatton Gorge (that’s worth a day trip all on it’s own!).

Broken River is famous for the Platypus sightings – early morning and late afternoon is best, but I have heard of people seeing them all throughout the day.  There are a couple of really good spots for catching a glimpse of these wonderful creatures – they are small (30cm long FULLY grown male), quick and very shy.  If you go there, you need to be quiet as they are easily spooked.  Unless you are lucky like I have been, then you generally only see them for a few seconds – they come up for air, have a quick look around and then vanish for another 10 minutes or so – to pop up again who knows where!

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They are also VERY hard to photograph – they normally only come out at low light, they are fast and you never know where they are going to surface and they are often quite a distance from you – and they are already very small!  But patience and perseverance will pay off.  I prefer to get there early in the morning – not only are they very active early, but there are less people around, especially kids.  Don’t get me wrong, I love kids, but hen you have been waiting for an hour or more to see a platypus, and just as it surfaces – you hear and feel the vibrations of running feet on the timber boardwalk followed by screams of “MUM, LOOK – there’s a PLATYPUS”.  Needless to say, these timid creatures disappear even faster than usual!

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But that’s not all there is at Eungella – walking tracks through the rain forest with a fantastic array of sights – landscape & wildlife galore.  Eungella sits at the top of the Clarke Range, which itself is an interesting drive (for the passenger!) and there are many little viewing platforms along the side of the range where you can look back along the Pioneer Valley and further to the west from the other side of the mountain.

MY Digital Photography runs day and weekend trips to Eungella for aspiring photographers and experienced photographers alike.  We guarantee you an opportunity to capture a shot of a platypus (I can’t guarantee you will get a good one, that’s up to you!) or you can come back again at no charge!

If you are interested in arranging a trip, fill in the contact form below

What shutter speed should I use?

A typical question for a photographer new to the Manual Settings of your camera.

The answer: “It depends what you are trying to do”

There is no right and wrong shutter speed in any given situation, but if you understand what it is you are trying to achieve, then you can work it out for yourself.  You will also have to adjust aperture and ISO as required.

Some General Situations:

  • Sports
  • Landscape
  • Close Up
  • Nature
  • Portrait
  • Night
  • Stars

Sports:

If you are trying to capture a sharp, in-focus shot, then the fastest shutter speed the light will allow (with the smallest aperture (highest number) you can use.

If you want to blur the action (for an artistic looking shot) then you can slow the shutter speed down and open the aperture up (smaller number)

For panning – following a moving object with your camera so that you can keep the object in focus and the background blurred – you will need a fast shutter speed and a very steady hand coupled with lots of practice!

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Landscape:

Depends totally on the light – low light, slower shutter speed, bright daylight, faster shutter speed.

Pre-Dawn: I always like to shoot sunrises at least 30 minutes BEFORE the actual sunrise.  On the east coast of Australia, the actual sunrise happens in a few seconds.  But for at least 30 minutes (more in summer, less in winter) before the sunrise, this is when the colours are gorgeous.  You will need a tripod because you will need very slow shutter speeds and probably wide open aperture (or not – when shooting Sunrises/Sunsets I am very flexible with Aperture – normally wide open (small number) early and gradually stop it down (small increments to big number).  When shooting at distance (like the sun) the depth of field will be massive regardless of what aperture you use.

Dawn: This is when the sun actually starts to peek over the horizon – by this time I will have a fairly well closed aperture (at least f/8 but normally f/11 or even more).  Because you are now shooting directly into the sun, you want a small aperture – there will be a lot of light hitting the sensor, so you want a small aperture (big number) to reduce the amount of light coming through the lense onto the sensor.

Post Dawn: Generally once the sun is up (in Australia anyway) you have a lot of light unless it is rainy or very cloudy.  Assuming fine weather – I will normally shoot landscapes around f/11.  This gives me a good depth of field and allows me to still use fairly high shutter speeds.  Something you need to understand, with any type of photography, is depth of field (DOF) and hyperfocal distance. I will not cover these here in any detail but I will cover them at a later stage. I will give you a brief description here.

    1. DOF: Generally, shooting an object near to the camera lense with a wide open aperture (small number like f/1.2 or f/2.8) will give you a very shallow DOF – so if you are photographing an insect, depending on your lense, you may only get a part of the insect in focus with the background very blurry (bokeh).  The further away the object is, the greater the DOF and the more of your photograph will be in focus.
    2. Hyperfocal distance:  Knowing the make of lens, the aperture and the distance to the subject – you can accurately calculate the hyperfocal distance.  The hyperfocal distance is the closest distance at which a lense can be focused while keeping objects at infinity acceptably sharp. When the lens is focused at this distance, all objects at distances from half of the hyperfocal distance out to infinity will be acceptably sharp.

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Close Up:

When doing close up photography, your lens is all important.  For example, with my 70-200 f/2.8 lens, the closest I can focus is 1.2m, but with my 17-40 f/4 I can focus at 900mm (.9m).  If you have a macro lens you can get so close it is not funny!

When photographing an insect or a butterfly, you will want to get as close as you can, with a wide open aperture (small number).  You will have a very shallow DOF and a beautifully blurred background (depending on lenses/camera combination).

If you want to get closer still, without paying for a macro lens, you can buy macro tubes – effectively all these do is move the lense further from the sensor to allow you to get in closer.  There is a good Youtube video you can have a look at by Matt Granger. You can add multiple tubes moving the lense further and further out from the body – you will need to use a tripod and mirror lock-up when using multiple tubes for the best results.  At higher magnifications, vibration is much more noticeable.

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Nature:

Low light, movement – wide open aperture, as high a shutter speed as possible (maybe need to push the ISO up) and a tripod.  High ISO allows you to increase your shutter speed, but it will increase “noise” in your photo.

Low light, no movement – wide open aperture, as high a shutter speed as possible and possibly a tripod.

Good Light, fast movement – whatever aperture will still allow you to use a high shutter speed – depending on camera, 1/4000 or 1/8000 (or whatever your fastest shutter speed is).

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Portrait:

The minimum focal length you want to use for portraiture is 50mm – less than this and you will accentuate features that you don’t want accentuated – like the nose will look large and so on.

Portraiture is often done with flash – then you will sync your shutter speed to the flash – generally around 1/200 or 1/250 sec.

Natural light – use a high enough aperture to get the best DOF and shoot at whatever shutter speed gives you the best shot.

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Night:

Using flash – shutter speed will be synced to the flash at around 1/200 to 1/250 sec.

No flash, with tripod – whatever the highest shutter speed you can manage.  Remember, the slower the shutter speed, the more chance of blur due to the subject moving.

No flash, hand held – high ISO and the highest shutter speed you can.  Your lense will make a big difference here – if you have IS (Image Stabilising) then you will be able to shoot at much lower shutter speeds.
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Stars:

Sharp photos of the stars, a tripod is a must.  Widest aperture possible and shutter speed no more than 20 seconds (otherwise you get blur from the movement of the stars).  Set focus to infinity and then pull back a little (hyperfocal distance).

Star Trails – again, tripod is a must.  Longer than 30 seconds (can be hours) and you will see the trails the stars leave.

The different colours are achieved by manipulating colour temperature, either in camera or post.  The flash was used off camera (in test mode) at quite low settings (1/32 power from memory)
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If you have any photography related questions you would like me to cover in a blog post, you can leave me a comment or email me through the contact page (on the menu at the left) and I will be happy to cover any topic.

Social Media Marketing and Photography Update

In November 2012 I wrote an article called Social Media Marketing and Photography which you can have a read of if you like. As it is now December 2013 I thought it would be interesting to see how it has been working.

fbGoogle+wordpress

At that time I had been on Google+ for 3 months and I had 974 followers and I was following 3,243 people. Today, Google+ is still my preferred Social Media platform and I now have 4,711 followers and I follow 2,960 people and have 249 Followers on the MY Digital Photography Page.  So how does that work I hear you ask? More followers with less people followed?  When I started I just kept adding people until I had the maximum of 5,000 people I followed.  I was getting inundated with posts and my stream was more like a fast flowing River! Then I read that those with a big differential between following (less) and followers (more) had more influence on G+! So following the strategy I developed of following people who share your work rather than photographers, I started culling the least interactive photographers, leaving only the ones I had relatively common interaction with. Because I also realized having an influential photographer share my work was really going to benefit me, I kept only the photographers whose work I admired and have interacted with me on a social level – after all, it can’t be all work and no play! I have also found out that by sharing the work of these photographers,  I gain brownie points from their followers who start to follow me as well.

I do a lot more on Facebook than I used to, but I still don’t like Facebook as much from a business point of view, it is more of a personal social medium to me. I now have 384 “friends” on my personal page, 145 Likes on my MY Digital Photography Page, 99 Likes on my MY Digital Photography Tours Page and 38 Likes on my MY Digital Photography Event Photography Page.

I also have a twitter account now and post from G+ and FB into Twitter with the occasional direct post in twitter.

I have a few other online sites I use like Instagram, Viewbug, LinkedIn and a couple of others but I am cutting down on the number and focusing more on the main ones.

Do I get work out of Social Media directly? Not much.  Then why spend so much time working on it?  Social Media is the widest part of the funnel. From Social Media I direct people to my Blog and from my Blog to me or to my Website.  The big thing with Social Media is volume – you will only ever get a small percentage of people interested, so you need to get in front of a lot of people.

MY Blog – well, you are here now, reading my Blog.  The Blog is a powerful Marketing Tool – notice I said Marketing, not Sales. What’s the difference?  In my opinion, Marketing is anything that gets people in front of Sales Staff.  Sales is dealing with the people who come to you.  The Blog lets people gauge just how much you actually know about your industry and associated topics.  It shouldn’t be all in your face and “buy this now” – it should be a more subtle medium.  Articles like this about Social Media – not about MY Digital Photography directly.  Blogs have a lot of words in them – and words are like Gold to the Search Engine BOTS that troll the web.  The more words the better.  The Blog is also a part of the funnel that directs people to your Website.

MY Web Site.  I have a web site which is effectively a Sales Aid – my portfolio on-line.  Web sites do not SELL photographs – people sell photographs.  The Web Site has a good (and getting better) overview of my work in the various different market segments I work in and it also enables people to place their orders for images directly.  They place their orders – but the Web Site does not sell your work – or rarely.

The only one who can sell your work is YOU (or in my instance, ME)

Lightroom vs Photoshop

A lot of people ask “What is the difference between Lightroom and Photoshop” the answer is they both do some of the same things and they are both completely different.  This article is definitely NOT an in depth comparison between the two products, more an attempt to help you decide which application suits you better.

Firstly, let me say that I believe ALL photographers should start with Lightroom and then some/many will also need Photoshop.  I will explain why I believe that later.

What is Lightroom?

LIBRARY Lightroom is firstly and foremost a database / catalog system designed specifically for photographers.  It has rich keyword searches, metadata searches and much more.  It enables you to create collections and keeps track of all of your photographs and if you have keyworded them correctly, enables you to find any photograph out of 100,000+ within seconds.

DEVELOP Secondly, Lightroom enables you to enhance your photograph so that it looks more like what you saw that captured your attention in the first place.  How often have you seen something and clicked off a photo, only to be a little disappointed when you look at it on your computer?  One of the reasons for this (it doesn’t necessarily mean you are a bad photographer) is that the human eye has a much greater dynamic range than your camera (no matter how good it is).  As an example, you look into a shaded area and you can see something in there – you take a photo and it is nearly black – why? Because your eye can interpret the shadows better than your camera can.  The detail is often there in the image – you just need to be able to bring it out – and that is the type of thing LR can do so well.

MAP The map module allows you to visually graph on a map of the world where all your photos were taken.  Handy if your camera supports GPS Co-ordinates.

BOOK Lightroom interfaces nicely with Blurb to allow you to quickly and easily create your own book.

SLIDESHOW As it is named, this module allows you to create a slideshow quickly and easily

PRINT A very handy module that allows you to create many and varied print styles and print your photographs.  Great for proof sheets, prints and many other uses.

WEB This module allows you to create web pages simply and quickly.

What is Photoshop?

This is a big question!  It’s a lot easier to ask, what ISN’T Photoshop!  Photoshop is NOT a database, it is not a mapping tool, a slideshow creator or for bringing together the elements of a book or webpage.

As far as editing goes, I don’t think anyone would argue that Photoshop isn’t the premier product for editing and manipulating photos.

All the editing described in the DEVELOP module of Lightroom can be done in Photoshop – but in many instances LR does it just as well and a lot more simply than PHOTOSHOP.  For example, changing overall exposure, contrast, saturation, vibrance, whites and blacks are very simple in Photoshop.  If you don’t have LR, then photoshop brings up Camera Raw which is basically Lightroom’s Develop Module when you open a photo.

Where Photoshop is obviously superior to Lightroom is in the tools like spot removal.  LR5 has a great new spot removal tool, very similar to the one in PS – but only good for simple edits.  If you try and do too many edits in Develop, LR very quickly chews up your computer’s resources and becomes unusable.

PS allows you to manipulate images in pretty much every way imaginable – but it is a monster to learn.

A very good training resource is Scott Kelby’s new ebook “Photoshop for Lightroom Users“.  I highly recommend it.  If you have an Android device (like I do) then you simply download the Kindle for Android App and your device acts just like an e-reader.  This book covers step by step how to do the most common things a Photographer would want to do but finds Lightroom too limited.  Get a copy now!

Printing Photos

A lot of people who are serious about photography get confused about printing, you know why?  Because it is confusing!

What type of file should I use to print from?

JPEG or TIFF ?  To answer this question we need to look at the difference between the file types.

JPEG stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group.  This group was formed in 1986 and in 1992 they released the first version of the JPEG File Format.  Essentially, what the JPEG file does is compress the RAW image – it maintains a high level of detail, whilst being about 1/2 the size of the RAW file.  So, a lot of photographers shoot in JPEG rather than RAW, either because they think RAW is to hard to work with or simply want to save space.  So, in-camera, the image has been reduced by the JPEG algorithm (an algorithm is a set of programming rules that can be followed using different data).  So, what happens when you edit a JPEG and then re-save it – if you re-save it under the original filename, it again compresses the file – making it smaller again, and a little more detail is lost.  If you re-edit and save again using the same filename, again it compresses the file and more detail is lost and so on.  JPEG is what is termed a “lossy” file format.

On a computer screen, this doesn’t matter so much (to a point) but when you print, you want the best quality you can get.  The reason why it doesn’t matter so much on a screen is that your screen resolution, even on a large screen, is probably no more than 1920×1080 – the original image is (on a Canon 60D) is 5184×3456 – so even heavily compressed, you are still going to get a decent resolution on screen.

TIFF stands for Tagged Image File Format and was originally introduced by the Aldus Company in 1986 and was very popular for “Desk Top Publishing”.  In 2009 TIFF was taken over by Adobe and has no major improvements since then.  TIFF is widely supported by image-manipulation applications, by publishing and page layout applications, by scanning, faxing, word processing, optical character recognition and other applications.  TIFF (generally) is a non compression file type – or “lossless”.  This means that a TIFF file can be edited and re-edited without any loss in detail – making it an ideal file format for printing.

So, in answer to the original question, which is better for printing – TIFF without doubt.  Most professional printing outfits will recommend a TIFF file format created with at least 240 ppi (pixels per inch)

DPI and PPI

In printing, DPI (dots per inch) refers to the output resolution of a printer or imagesetter, and PPI (pixels per inch) refers to the input resolution of a photograph or image. DPI refers to the physical dot density of an image when it is reproduction as a real physical entity, for example printed onto paper, or displayed on a monitor. A digitally stored image has no inherent physical dimensions, measured in inches or centimetres. Some digital file formats record a DPI value, or more commonly a PPI (pixels per inch) value, which is to be used when printing the image. This number lets the printer know the intended size of the image, or in the case of scanned images, the size of the original scanned object. For example, a bitmap image may measure 1,000 × 1,000 pixels, a resolution of 1 megapixels. If it is labeled as 250 PPI, that is an instruction to the printer to print it at a size of 4 × 4 inches. Changing the PPI to 100 in an image editing program would tell the printer to print it at a size of 10×10 inches. However, changing the PPI value would not change the size of the image in pixels which would still be 1,000 × 1,000. An image may also be resampled to change the number of pixels and therefore the size or resolution of the image, but this is quite different from simply setting a new PPI for the file. (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dots_per_inch )

This is an area that can take a lot of study to really get to understand it – needless to say, whatever the PPI your professional printer wants – give it to them!

Cropping an Image

I often hear “I sent this image away for printing and the printer cut of a part of the image!”  The image size on my Canon 60D is in a 3:2 format.  If I print to a 10″x8″ print, this is a 5:4 format – I either have to crop my photo to a 5:4 ratio or reduce the printed are to fit the whole image on the photograph.

The aspect ratio of an image describes the proportional relationship between its width and its height.

It is commonly expressed as two numbers separated by a colon, as in 16:9. For an x:y aspect ratio, no matter how big or small the image is, if the width is divided into x units of equal length and the height is measured using this same length unit, the height will be measured to be y units. For example, consider a group of images, all with an aspect ratio of 16:9. One image is 16 inches wide and 9 inches high. Another image is 16 centimeters wide and 9 centimeters high. A third is 8 yards wide and 4.5 yards high.

In still camera photography, the most common aspect ratios are 4:33:2, and more recently being found in consumer cameras 16:9.[2] Other aspect ratios, such as 5:35:4, and 1:1 (square format), are used in photography as well, particularly in medium format and large format.

Camera Sensor Sizes

Sensor Sizes

Sensor Sizes with Aspect Ratio

Sensor Sizes with Aspect Ratio

        • 2:3 – 2×3, 4×6, 8×12, 16×24, etc.
        • 4:5 – 4×5, 8×10, 16×20, 24×30, etc.
        • 5:7 – 5×7
        • 1:1 – a square.  Common sizes are 5×5, 12×12, 20×20

This is obviously not an exhaustive treatise on printing, but I hope this makes it a little bit clearer. In summary, it is the Aspect Ratio of an image that determines what the best print size is.  If the aspect ratio of the image doesn’t fit the aspect ratio of the print, then you have to either crop your image, print with white space around the image to fit it all in or lose some of your image.

Confused?  I hope not, but if you are, then Google is a great tool!

Depth of Field (DOF)

Depth of Field can the the photographers best friend or worst enemy – depends on whether you meant to get cousin Fred all blurry in the family photo or not!

In optics, particularly as it relates to film and photographydepth of field (DOF) is the distance between the nearest and farthest objects in a scene that appear acceptably sharp in an image. Although a lens can precisely focus at only one distance at a time, the decrease in sharpness is gradual on each side of the focused distance, so that within the DOF, the unsharpness is imperceptible under normal viewing conditions. (Source Wikipedia)

So what does this mean in relation to your photography?  It means that the wider your aperture (the lower the number, eg ƒ/2.8) the shallower your Depth of field – conversely, the smaller your aperture (the larger the number, eg ƒ/22) the wider your DOF.  There is a direct relationship between distance for the lens and image size to the DOF – the closer the subject, the shallower the DOF.  For example, in Landscape Photogrpahy the subject if often a fair distance form the lens – therefore at larger apertures (like ƒ/2.8) you get a much larger DOF than in Macro Photography, where due to the closeness of the subject the DOF is extremely shallow, so much so that you may only get a part of the insect in focus.

The focal length plays a big part in DOF as well.  To demonstrate, try this.  Focus in close on a leaf at ƒ/2.8 from 3 metres away and take a shot – you will notice the area in front of and behind the leaf is blurry, whilst the leaf itself is in sharp focus.  Now focus on an object in the far distance – say a tree on a hill.  If you are using a 200mm lens, your DOF from 3 metres will be 20mm – at 200 metres it will be 121.39m !  Quite a big difference.  Have a look at this Depth of Field Calculator that I found quite useful when writing this article.

The other thing that is useful to be aware of is the Distribution of Depth of Field. At a smaller focal lenght (10 mm) the distribution of DOF is roughly 30/70 in front of and behind the subject – at longer focal lengths, say 200 mm it is closer to 50/50.

This is particularly something to be aware of when photographing groups of people – you often hear people say, “The Bride & Groom where beautifully sharp, but cousin Fred in the back row is all blurry!” (poor Fred!).  This is becasue to get the group in, the photographer used a smaller focal length (say 24mm) but had the aperture too wide (say ƒ/2.8 at 3m from the Bride & Groom in the front row – the DOF is only .76 m ).  All you needed to do is close the aperture to, say, ƒ/9 and the DOF would have been about 20m (15.67 m @ ƒ/8 and infinity at ƒ/11).

This link to a Depth of Field Tutorial by Cambridge in Colour is very useful.

Depth of Field when used properly can make a photo – intentionally blurring a boring background can enhance an image immeasurable, whilst a tack sharp Depth of Field in a Landscape photograph can make your image an award winner.   Again, (like exposure)  it is a very subjective issue.  I displayed (what I thought) was a beautiful image of a bid in a tree, with the background beautifully Out of Focus (OOF) in a Nature & Wildlife Forum.  From an artistic viewpoint it was a good image – but to a bird watcher, he wants to see the detail of the foliage and the background – because he is interested in the Subject, not so much the artistic value.

Common Mynah

Common Mynah taken @ 200mm  f/2.8