Collins Complete Photography Manual
Collins Complete Photography Manual
Collins Complete Photography Manual
Everything you need to know about photography, both digital and film.
Table of Contents
Photography means different things to different people. For some it is a way of capturing memories – of having a lasting reminder of special moments. For others it is a way of expressing themselves artistically. For a fortunate few, it is a rewarding way of earning a living. But for many it is simply one of the most fascinating hobbies there is to be enjoyed – a delicious blend of art and science that can be practised on its own or combined with other pastimes.
One of the secrets of success is choosing the right camera. Most of us now have one built into our mobile phone – and increasingly as digital resolution improves the quality of images produced is perfectly acceptable at relatively small degrees of enlargement. However, camera phones are extremely limited. While it is convenient to have them immediately to hand, so you can take pictures as and when the opportunity arises, they lackthe versatility of dedicated cameras.
For this reason, those who are serious about taking good pictures tend to spend as much as they can afford on equipment, rather than making do with what they have already. At the very least, you need a compact camera with a decent zoom lens, and ideally a Single Lens Reflex camera with a collection of interchangeable lenses and other accessories.
While you can tackle most popular subjects successfully with a compact camera, the tool of choice for serious photographers is an SLR, onto which you can fit everything from wide-angle lenses to open up perspective, and get more into the frame, to telephoto lenses that enable you to pull in distant subjects and compress perspective. Most also give more control over exposure, allowing you to control the shutter speed and aperture.
While some photographers still use film, the majority have now switched to digital. The advantages are obvious: the quality is fantastic, you can see your pictures immediately after you have taken them, and once you have bought the camera plus removable storage card – which can be used many times over – the running costs are minimal. Of course, you will need computer equipment to enjoy your photography to the full, but since most households now own a PC or Macintosh anyway, this is rarely a problem. Software to enhance images is bundled with most cameras or is readily available at a reasonable price. If you want prints to put in an album or frame, these can be ordered from photo labs at minimal cost, oryou might prefer to invest in an inkjet printer and produce them at home.
If you prefer using film, or have a significant investment in film cameras, one option is to continue shooting in the traditional way and either scan the negatives, transparencies or prints. This, however, can be extremely time-consuming, and since digital SLR bodies are now available that are compatible with most systems, it makes sense in most instances to make the transition to the latest technology.
This book assumes, therefore, that most readers are shooting digitally, and either using a compact camera with a zoom lens or an SLR with a range of lenses. In Chapter Two we consider in detail the opportunities offered by different lenses and lens settings, not only in terms of the subjects that can be taken successfully, but also with regard to the effects that can be produced. It is this variety and versatility that makes photography so endlessly fascinating. Adding a range of accessories, such as tripods and flashguns, increases your options yet further.
Developing your technique
Equipment, though, will only take you so far. Ultimately it is developing your technique that will determine how good your pictures are. And that comes to down to a number of key photographic skills: control over exposure; accurate focusing; effective composition; and powerful use of lighting.
Once you have mastered the different exposure ‘modes’ you will be able to put the right amount of light on the sensor or film in your camera in the most creative way – varying the shutter speed and aperture according to what you are seeking to express. You will also learn to recognize the kinds of situations in which exposure meters are most likely to be misled and get things wrong – and then what you can do about it.
Focusing, too, can sometimes be tricky. It is fair to say that modern, advanced focusing systems work well most of the time; however, if you are not careful, they will sometimes focus on the wrong part of the subject. Consequently, you need to know when to override automatic operation in your camera and take control yourself.
Effective composition is at the heart of successful photography. Faced with a particular subject, there are dozens of different ways in which the elements could be arranged in the frame. Of course, much of this is down to personal taste and choice – after all, it’s your picture! However, if you follow a few simple rules – such as using frames, dynamic diagonals and lead-in lines – your picture-taking will improve immeasurably. Colour, too, is crucial, and the way you blend tones can make or break an image.
As you become a more experienced photographer, you will also need to learn how to make the most of the many moods and nuances of daylight. Once you understand how light changes from dawn to dusk, from season to season, and according to the weather, you will be able to match the right light to the right subject. Quality of light is more important than quantity of light, and some of the best pictures are taken when ambient levels are low or at night. This requires excellent technique to avoid problems with camera-shake and exposure.
Developing an eye for a picture
Ultimately, becoming a good photographer is a matter of learning to make pictures rather than just take them. No matter what subject you like to shoot, you should always be looking for ways of improving what you find already there, not just accepting things as they are. Follow the advice given in Chapter Four: exploring original and eye-catching ways of capturing your subject will help your images stand out from the crowd.
The most popular subjects for photography are people, landscapes, children, architecture and travel, and in Chapter Five we explore them fully, along with other subjects including sport and action, pets, close-ups, documentary and nude. As you learn specific techniques that are particularly effective in each area, so you will produce even better pictures.
For those who would like to go further, in Chapter Six we examine the challenges of taking pictures in the studio, and consider ways of making money from photography – perhaps even the potential for going freelance or turning professional.
Enhance and manipulate
Capturing your subject, though, is only the beginning. Once you have transferred the image to your computer a whole world of creativity opens up. You can improve colour, exposure and composition, or selectively lighten and darken specific areas. Unwanted elements can be completely removed. Images can be combined, filters added to creative effect, pictures transformed into black and white or toned. All these options are explored in Chapter Seven to get your creative juices flowing.
Photography has been in existence for over 160 years, and it is still as exciting and as interesting as it ever was. Collins Complete Photography Manual has been designed so that you can either read it from the front to the back or dip into each of the sections as you prefer – to find the information you need to become a better photographer.
We have sought not only to give you clear, practical advice but also to include inspirational, powerful pictures as a spur to your creativity.
Enjoy your photography!
Everybody takes pictures-and virtually everyone now shoots digitally. The medium offers many advantages, and it is easy to see why digital has replaced film. For a start you can viewyour pictures immediately, which means that you can check you have captured exactly what you wanted before moving on. Digital images are also tremendously accessible when you transfer them from the camera. You can view them straight away on a computer or television, and then print them out on your own inkjet or at one of the many instant print outlets. Best of all, once you have your digital camera and removable card, taking pictures is more or less free.
The Changing Nature of Photography
These days, getting started in photography generally means getting started in digital photography. Although film dominated the medium for decades and digital imaging is a quite recent phenomenon, relatively few people now buy or use film cameras.
The early days of photography
The first permanent photograph was produced way back in 1826 by the French inventor Nicéphore Niépce – and incredibly it involved an eight-hour long exposure! From this starting point, for all of the 19th and for most of the 20th century, taking photographs was a chemical process. Light-sensitive materials were exposed to light, developed in a darkroom, enlarged to the size required, and then fixed so that the image was permanent and would not fade. Since then the equipment and processes used have become ever more sophisticated – but the principles have basically remained the same.
The rise of digital photography
Over the last decade, however, we have witnessed a fundamental change in how we take pictures. ‘Wet’, chemical photographic processes have been replaced by ‘dry’, digital processes, revolutionizing every aspect of photography. The processes pioneered by Niépce and Daguerre have been dramatically superseded.
THE SONY MAVICA
Sony announced its Mavica digital camera in August 1981, but it was not until the late 1990s that production models were available in the shops. Technically the first Mavica was not a digital camera but a video camera, from which freeze-frame images were taken. Later models recorded onto floppy disks and then CDs, which made them extremely popular.
You might be surprised to learn that the first digital camera, the Sony Mavica, was announced as long ago as 1981, but it was not until 1990, when Kodak unveiled the DCS 100, that digital cameras became commercially available. Initially sales were slow, because the prices of digital equipment were high and the quality of output was low. However, as prices have tumbled and quality has improved, sales of digital cameras have sky-rocketed. These days not many people buy cameras that use film – sadly they have gone the way of the slide rule, the Betamax video recorder and the vinyl record. Digital is now the norm. In fact, some leading manufacturers have completely discontinued film models, and are focusing exclusively on digital.
So, when you first get started in photography, it makes sense to buy and use digital equipment, for all the reasons we gave in our introduction: economy, quality and immediacy.
Digital Compact Cameras
Digital compact cameras are small, portable and inexpensive. They are easy to use for beginners as well as being ideal ‘go anywhere’ cameras for more experienced photographers.
The ‘megapixel’ rating typically found on digital compacts is a rough guide to the picture quality you can expect, although this is not as important now as it was when digital imaging technology was first emerging. This is because these days digital photography has advanced so much that just about any camera will take a reasonable image, regardless of the number of megapixels that it advertises. Five megapixels will give you excellent 6″ × 4″ prints and good enlargements up t0 7″ × 5″ or even 10″ × 8″. If you regularly want to print at larger sizes, go for a higher-resolution camera with 7-10 megapixels.
How long a zoom range do you want? Basic digital cameras usually have a ‘3x’ zoom range. In other words, this means that at the maximum telephoto setting you get a 3x magnification compared to the wide-angle setting. If you want to shoot subjects which are further away, you need a longer zoom range. Some compact cameras have zoom ranges up to 6x, but if you want more (10x or 12x), you should look for a ‘superzoom’ camera, though these are generally bulkier.
Tips for basic usage
Most compact digital cameras are designed for simple snapshot operation, and control the shutter speed and aperture automatically. If you want to control these manually, you will need to look for cameras with ‘PASM’ (Program AE, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority and Manual) modes.
Checkthe battery life of your compact. Some cameras may take as few as 100-150 shots on a single charge, which is not always enough for a full day’s shooting. Aim for a battery life of 200 shots or more.
Once you have acquired your digital camera, there are a couple of tips you can use in order to take better shots.
Firstly, use the LCD to compose shots when you can, rather than the camera’s optical viewfinder(if it has one). Optical viewfinders are good in bright light, when the LCD can become hard to see, but they do not give an accurate indication of the precise area that the camera will photograph.
You will also notice that compact digital cameras suffer from ‘shutter lag’, in which case you press the shutter release, but the shutter does not fire straight away. When shutter lag occurs it will typically take the camera around half a second to focus first and this can make it difficult to time your shots accurately.
To get around the problem, line up your shot first and then half-press the shutter button. The camera will focus and the focus will remain ‘locked’while the button remains half-pressed. Now wait for exactly the right moment to take the shot, then press the button the rest of the way until it is fully depressed. The shot will betaken instantly, without any shutter lag.
Digital SLR Cameras
Digital SLRs are bulkier and more expensive than compact digital cameras, but they have larger sensors which give better picture quality and more advanced photographic controls.
What is an SLR?
The acronym SLR stands for ‘Single Lens Reflex’. When you use an SLR, the picture is composed and taken through the camera’s single lens. ‘Reflex’ refers to the mirror which is used to reflect the image up into the viewfinder until the moment the shutter is released. The mirror flips up out of the way and the image then passes to the sensor at the back of the camera.
Low-cost digital SLRs have 6-10 megapixel sensors which can yield very good results, but it is worth paying a little extra for a camera with more pixels. The difference in fine detail is visible.
Lenses, kits and accessories
You can use different lenses on a digital SLR and manufacturers sell them in ‘body-only’ form, in which case you have to buy a lens separately, or as a camera ‘kit’, when a general-purpose zoom lens is included. If you already own compatible lenses, it might make sense to buy the body on its own. However, if this is your first digital SLR, you should get a kit with a lens included. This will be much cheaper than buyingthe body and the lens separately.
Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Pentax, Samsung, Panasonic and Sony all make digital SLRs. Canon and Nikon have the widest ranges, which include professional models. It is important to understand that each maker uses its own unique lens mount. You cannot use a Canon lens on a Nikon body, or a Panasonic lens on an Olympus body. When you choose an SLR you should think about the lenses, bodies and accessories you might want in the future, and which maker has the best range.
There may appear to be little difference in features between an inexpensive SLR and a more expensive professional model, but you will find that professional SLRs are much more solidly-built, will last longer and will withstand rougher handling. They are quicker to use and adjust once you have gained some experience, and they may offer faster continuous-shooting speeds as well, which could be important for wildlife or sports photography.
The benefits of SLRs
Digital SLRs are as easy to use as compact digital cameras. All have ‘point-and-shoot’ fully automatic modes, so beginners can explore the more advanced options at their own pace.
Having said that, it maybe necessary to modify your shootingtechnique a little if you are used to a compact digital camera. This is because digital SLRs have much less depth-of-field (near-to-far sharpness) than compacts, so when you graduate to an SLR you will need to get to grips with lens apertures and how these affect depth-of-field.
Finally, because the pictures are sharper than those from compacts (and digital SLR users will be expecting more from their photos anyway) it is a good idea to invest in a tripod to help avoid camera-shake in low light and to aid careful composition whenever time and space permit.
Digital SLR Cameras
Digital SLRs are superior to digital compact cameras in a number of respects. The larger sensor area produces better image definition and less digital ‘noise’ (random speckling, like film grain).
Other advantages of digital SLRs
SLRs have a different viewing system, as well. With the exception of a couple of models from Olympus and Panasonic, the design of a digital SLR makes it impossible for the sensor to feed a live image to the LCD display on the back. This means that you have to compose shots using the optical viewfinder. However, the viewfinders on digital SLRs are vastly superior to those on compact cameras and show you the view through the camera lens itself. Consequently, what you see in the viewfinder is exactly what the camera will photograph.
Digital SLRs have faster focusing systems than compact cameras, despite the fact that their lenses are physically larger and heavier. There is still some shutter lag, but it is usually far less. What’s more, you can switch to manual focusing, and the size and sharpness of the viewfinder image means that you can easily see when your subject is in or out of focus.
Digital SLRs offer manual photographic controls which are frequently missing on compact digital cameras. You have control over both the shutter speed used and the lens aperture, and this is important for many creative effects. Digital compact cameras are easy to use but ultimately limiting. SLRs offer the potential to take your photography much further.
BUILDING A SYSTEM
The enduring popularity of Single-Lens Reflex cameras can be attributed to many different factors, but the most important is undoubtedly their enormous versatility. Buying an SLR gives you the beating heart of a system that can be expanded almost infinitely, to cover a virtually unlimited range of picture-taking opportunities. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that if you can think of a picture you can probably take it with a reflex camera. However, with such a bewildering range of equipment on the market, how do you know which to buy? Mistakes can be expensive, so you really need to get it right first time. The most crucial thing is to think carefully about what kind of pictures you like to shoot, and choose your accessories accordingly. Certainly you will need at least two lenses – possibly more depending upon your interests. As well as adding aflashgun, tripod and bag, you may want some close-up accessories, an infra-red remote control orfilters. Building a photographic system is never finished. There is always something new to buy and something new to learn.
HANDLING AN SLR
Digital SLRs are much biggerand heavier than digital compact cameras, which means you cannot just slip one into a pocket or a handbag-you need to make a conscious, deliberate decision to carry one around with you, especially if you want to have the option of using more than one lens, or fitting an external flashgun. In that case, you will need to pack everything intoabag. Unless you have extremely small handsyou will find that SLRs – despite their size and weight – handle extremely well. MostSLRs have chunky handgrips that make them comfortable to use. In fact, some people find them less fiddly than compact cameras, because there is more room for your fingers.
Part of this potential comes from the fact that you can use different lenses. Digital SLRs are often supplied with a ‘kit’ lens which covers a useful everyday zoom range from wide-angle to medium telephoto. However, additionally you can acquire ultra-wide-angle lenses and longer telephoto lenses in order to extend the range of subjects and conditions that you can work with.
Some camera makers offer ‘twin lens kits’. In this case, you get a general purpose zoom and a telephoto zoom. These can represent very good value.
SLR makers also supply external flashguns which can be attached to the camera’s accessory shoe and which provide more powerful and more versatile lighting than the built-in flashgun. Manufacturers’ SLR ‘systems’ include not just lenses and flashguns, but also remote controls, battery grips, underwater housings and more.
One further advantage of digital SLRs is that they enable you to shoot ‘RAW files as well as conventional JPEG images. RAW files contain the data captured by the sensor and have not been processed into images by the camera. You carry out the RAW file processing (conversion) on your computer later on. RAW files are like ‘digital negatives’ – they contain extra image data which can often be used to produce superior pictures.
Other Digital Cameras
Many photographers want a wider zooming range or more photographic control than an ordinary compact digital camera can provide. At the same time, they do not want the size and weight of a digital SLR.
A ‘bridge’ (or ‘prosumer’) camera may be the answer. These offer many of the advanced controls of digital SLRs but in a smaller and less expensive body with a fixed lens. This lens may offer a very wide zoom range, perfect for photographers who want a single, ‘all-in-one’ camera. Additionally, because the lens is fixed, the interior is sealed and bridge cameras are immune to a problem that can affect digital SLRs – dust spots on the sensor.
This type of photographic equipment does have its downside, however. Bridge cameras use electronic viewfinders which are not as clear and sharp as the optical viewfinders in digital SLRs. Furthermore, bridge camera sensors are much smaller – the same size as those in compact digital cameras – so you cannot expect the image quality to be as good as that you would get when using an SLR.
Camera phones are becoming more popular, but the picture quality has yet to reach the standard you would expect from even a basic digital camera, despite the fact that many now have similar numbers of megapixels. This is because the sensors in camera hones are of a lower quality, as are the lenses, and most are fit only for undemanding snapshot use.
You can also take still photographs with digital camcorders. Again, though, if you go this route the picture quality will be quite low, even with camcorders that boast good megapixel ratings. This is a good option only if you want to shoot a mixture of video and still shots without having to carry both a camcorder and a still camera. However, if you are interested in still photography for its own sake, a camcorder will soon prove too limiting.
Finally, there are interesting hybrid cameras which are essentially still digital cameras adapted to shooting movies as well, saving them directly onto memory cards rather than tape, DVD or hard disk. These devices are smaller than traditional camcorders. Bear in mind also that digital compact cameras have movie modes which are excellent for short video ‘snapshots’ and, in many cases, longer high-quality movies.
There are two main ways of transferring photos from your camera to your computer. One is to use a ‘card reader’ (see the separate panel) and the other is to connect the camera to the computer by cable. Most cameras use a USB connection, now universal amongst computers. Some professional models may also offer Firewire, a connection used by Apple Mac computers. It may also be possible to transfer photos ‘wirelessly’ or, in the case of camera phones, using Bluetooth. Wireless transfer can sometimes be slower and less reliable than cable transfer, and technically problematic.
Capture and Transfer
Whereas cameras used to store photographs on film, digital cameras store them as electronic files on memory cards. This is known as image ‘capture’. In order to be able to do anything meaningful with your digital images, you also need to be able to transfer them.
Some cameras may come with fixed internal memory as well, but this is usually enough for only a limited number of shots. All cameras have memory card slots. Compact digital cameras with internal memory do not come supplied with memory cards. Compact cameras without internal memory will usually be supplied with a low-capacity card just to get you started. Digital SLRs are sold without memory cards.
Memory cards come in several different types. These are SD (Secure Digital), CompactFlash, xD Picture Card and Memory Stick. There is also an older ‘Smartmedia’ format which is no longer in use.
All these types offer broadly similar value for money and performance, so you do not need to choose a camera based on the type of memory card it uses, unless you already have a stock of memory cards or you already have another camera and you want to stick to the same cards.
Memory cards vary in storage capacity. This is measured in megabytes (Mb) in the same way as computer storage. You will typically get 16Mb or 32Mb supplied with the camera, but this is not sufficient for longer photographic assignments. Each digital photo will take up around 2-4Mb of space and, if you use a digital SLR to shoot RAW files, these can take up 5-25Mb, depending on the camera.
You should consider buying a 256Mb card at the very least, since this will be enough for around 100 shots with an average compact digital camera. However, 512Mb and even 1Gb (1000Mb) cards are also comparatively inexpensive, and letyou take many more shots.
Some memory cards are marked with a speed rating (for example ‘40x’). This describes the speed at which the card can store the image data supplied by the camera. However, the processing hardware in the camera is usually the main bottleneck. High-speed cards can offer better continuous-shooting performance or longer movie sequences in some instances, but in most cameras the advantages of’fast’ cards are minimal.
USING A CARD READER
Card readers are small devices that plug into a computer’s USB port. You insert your memory card into a slot and it shows up on the computer as an external storage device, so that you can simply drag the photos across in to a folder on your computer. You need to make sure that you get a memory card reader that takes the type of card your camera uses, although many card readers include slots for all types.
It is possible to print your photos without a computer with specially designed printers, but a computer is essential for storing and browsing growing photo collections and for editing, enhancing and sharing your images.
If you already have a computeryou need to find out whether it is suitable for digital photography. This also applies if you are about to buy a new computer or replace an old one. The main considerations are the processor speed, the memory (RAM) and the storage capacity (hard disk size).
PC or Mac?
Firstly, though, there is an even more basic decision to be taken. Most computer buyers go for PC machines running Microsoft Windows, but while Apple Macintosh computers – ‘Macs’ – are in a minority, sales are still strong and they have certain advantages for this kind of work.
All Macs come with a program called iPhoto which is extremely good at organizing, cataloguing and enhancingyour photos. PCs do not offer an equivalent, although your digital camera may come supplied with similar software. The iMac, iBook and MacBook models come with very good monitors, too, which is an important consideration for photographers.
CHOOSING A MONITOR
At one time computer monitors were generally of the CRT (cathode ray tube) type with big television-style picture tubes. LCD (liquid crystal displays) were very expensive and comparatively rare. Nowadays, however, LCDs are much cheaper and have largely taken over in the marketplace.
LCDs produce aflat, distortion-free image and are usually superior to cheaper CRT monitors in colour and contrast. Many computer systems are sold with inexpensive 15-inch LCD displays. These do not always have good Viewing angles’ – the brightness appears to change as you shift position. Larger 17-inch or 19-inch screens are more expensive but have better viewing angles and higher resolution, so that your pictures look sharper and clearer on the screen.
However, while all cameras and printers work with Macs as well as PCs, there is less choice of software for the Mac, although certain top image editing programs such as Adobe Photoshop and Elements are available for both PC and Mac.
The performance of any computer will be governed largely by its processor speed. This is a complicated and constantly changing technical area with many competing chip ‘families’ and variants. To generalize, though, any medium-priced computer is likely to have an adequate processor for digital photography. Even budget models will work well enough, though you may find some tasks taking just a little longer.
RAM and storage capacity
It is more important to make sure the computeryou buy has enough RAM (Random Access Memory). This is the computer’s ‘thinking space’. These days most models are supplied with 512Mb of RAM, which is just about enough, though 1Gb is better. Avoid computers which offer only 256Mb of RAM.
Digital images can take up a lot of space, especially as your collection grows. Hard disk size is measured in Gb (gigabytes – 1Gb equals 1,000Mb). A collection of 10,000 photos could easily take up 20Gb of space, and this will increase if you save lots of edited versions and photographic projects. For this reason, an 80Gb hard disk is really a minimum requirement and 160Gb or more is better.
THE ADVANTACES OF USING A LAPTOP
Laptop computers can make excellent alternatives to desktop computers. Apart from their obvious advantages, such as being very compact, easy to pack away and available to work anywhere, laptops also make great portable storage and display devices for photographers.
If you take your laptop on holiday or on a photo expedition, you can transfer photos from your camera and then erase its memory card to make room for more shots. However, avoid budget laptops. You will need at least 512Mb of RAM (iGb is better) and an 80Gb or larger hard disk for adequate image storage,
Be aware that the displays on laptops are often a weak point. They are frequently low-cost screens wnicn, although they generally offer good colour, tend to have poor viewing angles. In the worst cases, the top of the screen can appear darker than the bottom.
USEFUL COMPUTER ACCESSORIES • Printer
For best results choose a ‘photo’ printer. These produce excellent quality. Many models have built-in memory card readers so that you can print photos without a computer.
You need a scanner if you have a col lection of old prints that you want to turn into digital images. Inexpensive ‘flatbed’ scanners will do a great job, and many models come with adaptors for slides and negatives as a matter of course these days.
• Card reader
A card reader will make it easier to transfer digital photos to your computer because you only need the memory card, not the camera itself (or the cable for connecting it).
• Monitor calibrator
Modern LCD displays are very good, but they are not always set up for accurate colour. Monitor calibration kits can help ensure that the colours you see on the screen will match those produced in prints of your digital photographs.
Broadly speaking, you need two types of software for digital photography: software for organizing and browsing your photos, and software for editing and enhancing them. Sometimes a single program will do both. Even then, though, these jobs are usually split into two distinct areas within the program.
In the past, the job of keeping images organized ha been largely overlooked as users concentrate on th more glamorous aspects of image enhancement and manipulation. However, software publishers and photographers are now realizing the growing importance of image organization and this now forms a key part of most digital photography applications.
Image organizing software
Digital photography software can come from a number of different sources. Most digital cameras are supplied with programs to get you started. Niko cameras come with Picture Project, for example, which provides basic image organizing and enhancement tools. Kodak provides similar EasyShare software with its cameras, while HP cameras come with ImageZone.
Google’s free Picasa 2 application is a very interesting alternative. It is exceptionally fast at finding and browsing digital photos, and incorporates editing tools which are both easy to use and highly effective. If you are on a budget, thi: is probably the best option to start with.
Even basic image organizing programs such as those described above will make a big difference to the way you manage your photographs, though serious or professional photographers may eventually need to move up to a professional cataloguing application offering greater versatility
Many of the special effects you can create in image editing programs are achieved with ‘plug-ins’. These are small software ‘modules’ which are not part of the main program, but which can be invoked from within it just as if they were. These plug-ins are usually found on a’Filters’ or’Effects’ menu. The majority of the filters in Photoshop and Elements, for example, are plug-ins. These are supplied with the software, but many third-party publishers produce specialized plug-ins for reducing digital noise, improved sharpening of fine detail or creative ‘art’ effects. These are bought separately but, once they are installed, they appear on the image editor’s Filters or Effects menu like all the rest.
Similarly, while the image editing tools in the programs that come bundled with cameras are adequate for fixing everyday photo errors, if you want to experiment with more advanced digital effects you will need to buy a more sophisticated image editing program. The best advice is to stick with the software provided until it becomes obvious that it can no longer do what you want. By then it will be clearer exactly what you do need.
Dedicated image editing software
There are many separate image editing programs to choose from. The most famous (and the most powerful) is Adobe Photoshop, but it is expensive, complicated and has features which many digital photographers will simply never use.
Adobe Photoshop Elements is very much cheaper, easier to use and equipped with most of the tools photographers will need. It comes with photo organizing software which is a step up from that you get free with the camera, as well. Other notable programs in this price bracket include Corel Paint Shop Pro and Ulead PhotoImpact.
Looking at pictures on a computer screen still isn’t quite the same as holding an actual print in your hand. For this reason, most digital photographers will want a home printer at some time.
Most photo printers use ‘inkjet’ technology. Tiny nozzles on a moving print head squirt dots of ink on to the paper as it passes through the printer. The dots are so small that they merge to form the appearance of a smooth-toned image. Some smaller printers designed for 6″ × 4″ snapshots alone use ‘dye-sublimation’ technology. In this case, the inks are supplied on a ribbon the same width as the paper. The inks are heated into a gas and permeate the upper layers of the paper.
There is little difference to choose between the two types in terms of picture quality. Inkjet prints may prove fractionally sharper, but dye-sublimation prints are dry as they emerge and are therefore physically a little more resilient.
These postcard-sized printers are inexpensive and very popular. Many contain built-in memory card readers so that you can print digital photos without a computer. The makers have adopted fixed-price ‘photo packs’ containing enough inkand paperfora specified number of prints, so that you can easily work out what the costs are per print.
THE MORE INKS THE BETTER?
Everyday inkjet printers use four inks – cyan, magenta, yellow and black. Photo printers typically use six, introducing extra ‘light cyan’ and ‘light magenta’ inks. The greater number of inks reduces the faint ‘dottiness’that ordinary printers can sometimes produce when printing photos.
Some more sophisticated models may use as many as eight or even nine inks. These are designed to extend the colour range, or ‘gamut’ that the printer can produce. These extra inks can improve the print quality, but they also make printers expensive and complexto maintain. However, advances in inkjet printing technology are allowing manufacturers to move back to simpler systems, and many ‘photo’ printers now produce superb print quality with just four inks.
Larger A4 printers are more versatile. With a couple of rare exceptions, these all use inkjet technology. Many A4 ‘photo’ printers include memory card slots, and almost all of them produce excellent print quality every bit as good as that you would expect from a commercial photo laboratory.
If you are interested in exhibiting your work, oryou want to enter competitions at a local camera club, or you simply want to hang big pictures on your wall, you should consider an A3 printer. Perhaps surprisingly, these typically cost more than twice as much as an equivalent A4 model.
Printer manufacturers quote a variety of specifications, butthese don’t necessarily help you to identify the best performers. Resolution figures (in ‘dpi’ – dots per inch) are now so high that they have little practical bearing on the print definition. Ink droplet sizes are now microscopic and, in reality, also have little actual bearing on print quality. Real-world tests in magazines are always a good guide, and they will also be up to date with the latest models and technologies.
In the early days of inkjet photo prints, rapid fadingof images was a problem. Manufacturers have invested heavily in research, and most now quote a print life expectancy in decades or ‘generations’. The important thing to note, however, is that manufacturers have not yet agreed on a standard set of test conditions and, obviously, they rely on ‘accelerated aging’ processes to estimate print deterioration.
Nevertheless, prints do now last much longerthan they used to, and quite probably as long as traditional photographic prints kept in the same conditions. However, it is essential to use the printer makers’ own papers and inks, because these have been specially tuned and matched to provide this longevity.
When you take a digital photo it is stored by the camera on a memory card. Memory cards have limited capacity and are best treated as purely temporary storage until you have the opportunity to transfer the photos to your computer.
The hard disk inside a computer has a much higher capacity and is perfectly suited to long-term storage of your growing photo collection. A 256Mb memory card may store around 100 good quality photos, but an 80Gb hard disk, which is quite modest by today’s standards, could store as many as 30,000.
These figures assume that each photograph takes up around 2.5Mb of space. This is a typical size for photos taken in the commonly used JPEG format. However, if you own a digital SLR and prefer to shoot RAW files, the file sizes will be much larger – anywhere from 5-25Mb, depending on the camera model. Edited versions of your files may also take up a lot more space than the original JPEG photos.
Virtual reality and the need to ‘back up’
Finding space to store your digital photos is not the only issue you need to be aware of. Unlike film, where you always have the original negative to fall back on, digital photos have no physical form. The electronic file on your computer is all you have. If the computer’s hard disk should fail, or if the computer is stolen or damaged, you will lose all your photographs.
This is why it is important to have a system for ‘backing up’ these files. This simply means keeping a copy of your photos on another storage device, preferably in another location, just in case something should happen to your computer.
There are different ways of doing this. Some photographers find the simplest method is to save their photos on CD or DVD as they go along. This is easiest if you have a routine. For example, your routine might be to first copy the photos from the camera to your computer, then copy them from the computer on to CD, then delete them from the camera.
Alternatively, you can use a plug-in (‘external’) hard disk drive and special backup software to maintain an up-to-date copy of your photo collection. This will serve as a generally reliable and relatively safe archive.
STORING IMAGES WHEN ON LOCATION
Storage can become a problem if you are away from your computer for any length of time, perhaps on vacation or on a business trip. It is no longer possible to transfer pictures to your computer and erase your memory card to make room for more. The simplest solution is to buy a larger memory card because prices have fallen considerably and even high-capacity cards of 1Gb and more are now inexpensive. Alternatively, you could invest in a portable storage device. These contain hard disks for bulk storage, but are battery-powered and have memory card slots so that transferring photos to the hard disk is easy. Finally, many stores have photo labs which can transfer pictures from your memory cards to a CD.
Digital cameras now easily outsell film cameras, but some photographers still prefer to use film because it offers advantages in some specific circumstances. Film cameras come in a number of types which are aimed at different kinds of photographer.
35mm and instant cameras
Film cameras are categorized by ‘format’ – the size and type of film used. The most popular type is 35mm film. There are many 35mm compact cameras and SLRs on the second-hand market, but they have largely disappeared from the dealers’ shelves and the manufacturers’ catalogues as digital compacts and SLRs have taken over, offering very similar levels of picture quality.
However, 35mm ‘single use’ cameras remain popular. They cost little more than a roll of 35mm film, and they are ideal for school trips or other projects where the camera may be damaged or lost.
Instant cameras can also be useful. The prints they produce are small and comparatively expensive, but the ability to produce a print on the spot has both novelty and practical value.
Medium and large format film cameras
‘Medium-format’ film cameras use larger film which comes on rolls. The largerfilm area produces much better quality than 35mm film, ideal for commercial or advertising work. Nevertheless, medium-format cameras have largely died out, too, as professional digital SLRs can now achieve similar levels of quality. ‘Large-format’ cameras use single sheets of film usually measuring 5″ × 4″, though some cameras may use sheets as large as 10″ × 8″. These produce superb picture quality and are used for calendars, posters and other large-scale displays. These cameras are still popular amongst landscape photographers due to the fact that although they are slow to set up, they are comparatively light – and no digital camera can yet match the level of quality of a large-format film camera.
Why film cameras remain popular
Few studio-based professional photographers now use film cameras because the ability to check digital images on the spot, and the low running costs (the only cost is printing the pictures you select) are impossible to ignore. Why spend a fortune on films and processing, as in the past, when digital image quality is – in the main – just as good and the whole business of getting pictures into a finished form is so much quicker and easier with a digital camera? Another consideration is that professional photographers’ clients are increasingly unwilling to accept the additional material costs that come with traditional film photography.
Having said all that, many amateur photographers and artists are currently re-discovering film photography. This is chiefly because film produces images with subtly different characteristics, and the longer chemical processes involved in developing films and producing prints encourage a more deliberate and considered approach to picture taking.
While makers have largely abandoned the production of film cameras, there are many millions of such cameras still in use. They are widely available on the second-hand market and many should continue to function for decades to come.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF FILM
1826: Joseph Nicéphore Niépce records the first permanent image.
1829: Sirjohn F.W. Herschel coins the term ‘photography’ (photos (light), graphein (to draw).
1834: Henry Fox Talbot creates permanent negative images from which prints can be made.
1839: Louis Daguerre invents the Daguerreotype process.
1900: The Kodak Brownie box roll-film camera arrives.
1907: The French Lumière brothers invent the first commercial colour film – ‘Autochrome’.
1914: Oscar Barnack, working for Leitz, develops the first 35mm camera.
1936:The arrival of Kodachrome colourfilm.
1963: Polaroid invents the first instant colour film.
1981: Sony reveals its ‘Mavica’ digital camera.
Choosing and Using Film
‘Negative’ film is used to make prints. ‘Positive’ film, which is more commonly called ‘slide’ or ‘transparency’ film, is designed to be viewed directly or displayed on a screen using a projector.
There are printing processes for making prints out of positive film, but they are less convenient than using negative film in the first place.
Colour negative film is the obvious choice for people using film cameras who want to be able to get their films developed and prints made at a photo laboratory. Although film camera production has now all but ceased, there are many millions of film cameras still in use and it seems likely that photo labs will continue to offer traditional developing and printing services to cater for them for some time to come.
Black and white negative film has traditionally been the realm of more dedicated enthusiasts rather than everyday snappers. This situation, and the fact that black and white film is chemically much simpler than colour, has led most black and white photographers to develop their own films. The makers sell the chemicals needed to develop your own films at home at the kitchen sink. However, you will need a darkroom in order to produce black and white prints.
Alternatively, you could follow the route adopted by many photographers and scan in your negatives and then produce prints digitally using your computer and an inkjet printer.
Colour transparency film
Colour transparency fīlm was for many years considered the ‘professional’ colour film, because it produced better picture quality than colour negative film. Today, Fujifīlm’s Velvia transparency film enjoys a cult following among those who believe no other film (or digital camera, for that matter) can match the intensity and richness of its colours. Before it was supplanted in professional photographers’ affections by Velvia, Kodachrome enjoyed a similar reputation.
Films come in different sensitivities, or ‘ISO’ ratings. High ISO films have more ‘grain’ (random speckling) and are not as sharp as low ISO films. As a general rule, you should choose a high ISO film when you are shooting in low light and a low ISO film whenever picture quality is crucial.
There are some special-interest films which can produce effects that are difficult to achieve in any other way. One of the most interesting is ‘infra-red’ film, which captures the heat given off by objects as well as the light that they reflect. Kodak’s High-Speed Infra-red black and white film is a well-known example. It reproduces blue skies as near-black but vegetation and human faces have a strange, ethereal glow.
All About Scanners
A scanner is used to convert a photograph into a digital image file on your computer. The photograph may be a print, a negative or a slide, though in order to scan negatives and slides you need a scanner with a transparency adaptor or a special film scanner.
Most scanners are of the ‘flatbed’ variety. You lay the item you want to scan face-down on a glass plate, close the lid and then operate the scanner from your computer. The glass plate, or ‘platen’, is usually a little larger than an A4 sheet or US letter size. Larger A3 scanners are available, but they are specialist items and considerably more expensive.
Flatbed scanners are designed for all kinds of printed material. They can be used to scan articles in magazines, letters and business documents as well as photographs. However, there is some quality loss during the scanning process, however good the scanner, and photo prints themselves are often imperfect, so it is better, where possible, to scan the original negative rather than a print.
Flatbed scanners with transparency adaptors can do this, but the quality will not be as high as you will get from a dedicated film scanner. These are more expensive than standard flatbed scanners and can only scan 35mm slides and negatives. You can also buy medium-format film scanners, but these are many times more expensive and are impractical for amateur photographers.
DPI (Dots Per Inch)
Manufacturers will quote the scanner resolution in dpi (dots per inch). Typically, even an inexpensive scanner will have a resolution of 2400dpi. This is way beyond the level of detail you are likely to find in any item you might want to scan. In practice, the optical and mechanical quality of the scannerwill be far more important than the resolution figure.
UNDERSTANDING DYNAMIC RANGE
Scanner makers may also quote ‘dynamic range’ or ‘DMAX’figures for scanners designed specifically for photographers. The dynamic range figure refers to the range of brightnesses that the scanner can record. Film can have a very high brightness range indeed, so a large dynamic range (‘DMAX’) is an advantage. Avery good flatbed scanner is unlikely to have a DMAX value higherthan 4.0 while afilm scanner might have a DMAX value of 4.2 or more. The small difference in figures makes a big difference to how successfully the scanner can capture detail in deep shadow and bright highlight areas of your slides and negatives.
High resolutions are useful only when scanning film directly. Here, you need a resolution of 2700dpi or more to capture all the detail in the photograph. However, even though many flatbed scanners offer higher resolutions than this, their optical and mechanical components prove the limiting factor, not the resolution. You can usually expect to get sharper pictures from afilm scanner than from a flatbed scanner with a transparency adaptor, whatever the quoted resolution figures.
Using a Scanner
Whether you are using a flatbed scanner or a film scanner, the scanning process is much the same. The first step is to place the photographic print on the scanning platen or, if you are scanning film, place the film in the holder provided.
Once your item is on the platen or in the film holder, you can then carry out a ‘preview’ scan or ‘prescan’. This scans the image quickly, but at a lower resolution than the final scan. Its purpose is to display the image on the computer screen so that you can make the necessary adjustments before the full scan is carried out.
First of all, you will want to ‘crop’ the scan or, in other words, remove any borders or empty space around the photo. Some scanners can ‘auto-crop’ your photos, but to get exactly what you want, do it yourself.
Next, you should confirm the colour settings. Many flatbed scanners will attempt to detect the type of item you are scanning as a ‘document’, ‘text’ or ‘photo’. It is always a good idea to check that the scanner has identified the type correctly and is not about to save your photo in the wrong format.
CORRECTING DEFECTS IN SCANS
35mm slides and negatives are very small and have to be magnified considerably to produce prints. This also magnifies any dust or hairs on the negative and this can easily spoil the image. You can use a blower brush or compressed air to try to dislodge any debris from the film before you scan it, but while this can help, it seldom eliminates dust entirely.
However, scanner makers have found a solution. Some scanners can identify dust particles, which stand proud of the film surface, using a special infra-red scan. Once the scanner knows the location of these particles it can ‘fill in’ the defects during the main scan to produce ‘spotless’ images. ‘Digital ICE’ technology is the best-known example of this.
Image adjustment settings
Now check the image adjustment settings. Most scanners have an ‘auto-adjustment’ option which measures the light values during the preview scan and adjusts the image brightness, contrast and colours automatically. These automatic adjustments will often be correct, but you may sometimes need to make adjustments manually if your photo looks too dark, too light or the wrong colour.
Resolution and output size
The next step is to check the scanning resolution and output size options. This can often be the cause of much confusion. The simplest solution is generally to leave the output image size the same as the original’s (or set the ‘scaling’ to 100 per cent) and then choose a resolution figure appropriate to the item that you are scanning. Afigure of 300dpi or 600dpi is usually plenty for scanning prints, and 2700dpi or 4000dpi will suffice when scanning slides or negatives.
Finally, you will need to choose the format of your scanned image file. The JPEG format produces the smallest files and is usually the most efficient option. If you set the ‘quality’ to ‘high’ there will be a negligible loss in quality compared to other formats.
The Future of Photography
Experience has shown that trying to predict the future is fraught with problems. It is all too easy to get things laughably wrong. There are two types of change: evolution and revolution. Evolution is easiest to anticipate. You start from where you are now and simply project forward. But progress is rarely linear and logical. Which of us at the turn of the century would have anticipated that within five years virtually every mobile phone would incorporate a digital camera?
One thing we can be reasonably sure of in the future of photography is that camera pixel count will continue to rise – though how much benefit that will be to anyone other than the professional photographer is another matter entirely. The resolution currently available on even inexpensive models of digital camera is more than sufficient to produce quality images that will satisfy most amateurs – whether they want to view them on screen or make prints. Not many photographers often enlarge their pictures beyond A4, and that is easily achievable at the resolutions available today. However, that factor alone will not stop the pixel count rising – even though bigger files mean longer processing times and require more storage capacity.
Higher resolutions will inevitably lead to an increase in the capacity of removable memory cards. Already you can buy cards that are capable of storing hundreds of quality images – enough for a whole year of picture taking for some photographers. One day, though, it might be possible to store an entire lifetime’s pictures on just one card. Doing so, however, without downloading or archiving them, would be a huge risk. Prudent photographers sensibly prefer to use several lower capacity cards just in case a card gets corrupted – which, happily, does not happen very often.
Large screens on cameras will become the norm in the future, and the larger the better. Screens allow you to compose images more effectively, review them more accurately, and share your images with others more easily just after you have taken them. The limiting factor will be the size of the camera itself-which will surely remain as diminutive as possible.
Live preview on SLRs
Being able to see the subject ‘live’ on the LCD monitor has been the norm for many years – but for a long time SLR cameras only showed the image electronically after it had been taken. Pictures were still taken using the tried-and-tested reflex viewing system. In time all cameras will have live viewing, including SLRs, and it will seem perverse to have anything else.
It seems likely that the various electronic items we use will gradually converge. Who wants to carry around lots of different gadgets? We are seeing this happen already, with phones featuring not only cameras but also music, email, games, the internet, diary and the capacity to play live and recorded video. Even so, it is likely to be some time before the SLR, used by most photo enthusiasts, goes the way of the dinosaur.
It is the enormous range of lenses and accessories on the market that makes photography so creative and so enjoyable. Compact digital cameras now generally have a zoom lens with a decent angle from wide-angle to telephoto – making it possible to tackle most popular subjects successfully. Step up to SLR ownership and there are no limits to what can be achieved photographically. Lenses and accessories are available to meet every possible need – from capturing distant subjects such as wildlife and sport to revealing the splendour of vast interiors or panoramic vistas. If you can imagine it, you can take it.
Single lens reflex cameras enable you to change lenses to achieve a variety of effects. The camera’s standard lens will give an angle of view roughly similar to that we perceive with the naked eye, a wide-angle lens enables you to get more into the frame, while a telephoto magnifies distant objects.
There are other lens properties to take into account, apart from their focal length, including the maximum aperture. The larger the maximum aperture, the more light the lens can gather. This is useful in poor light or whenever you want shallow depth-of-field in your photographs, perhaps for throwing backgrounds out of focus, or for creating a similar effect.
In modern cameras, zoom lenses have largely taken over from lenses with fixed focal lengths (‘prime’ lenses). The versatility of zooms means that you do not have to carry around a number of different prime lenses, or keep changing lenses for different subjects.
However, zoom lenses do have a couple of intrinsic disadvantages. One is that their maximum apertures are lower than those of prime lenses. Whereas a 50mm prime lens might have a maximum aperture of f/1.8, a typical ‘standard zoom’ might have a maximum aperture off/4 at this focal length.
Each digital SLR brand uses a different lens mount. A Nikon lens, for example, will not fit a Canon camera. However, you do not have to buy lenses made by your camera’s maker. Independent companies such as Sigma, for example, make lenses which can be supplied in different mounts according to the brand of camera you are using. These lenses are just as serviceable as those supplied by leading camera firms.
EQUIVALENT FOCAL LENGTH
Photographers using 35mm cameras are used to judging the angle of view of a lens by its focal length. However, with a couple of exceptions, digital SLRs have physically smaller sensors, so that the angle of view of the lens is reduced and it appears to have a longer focal length. You need to multiply the actual focal length by a factor of 1.5 or 1.6 to get its ‘effective’ focal length. For example, on a digital SLR a 50mm lens effectively becomes an 80mm lens.
Independent lenses versus marque lenses
Lenses made by independent companies are generally much cheaper than those offered by the camera maker. The optical performance is often very good and it may be difficult to see the difference in image quality between photographs taken using a good-quality independent lens and those taken on a more expensive ‘marque’ lens.
Having said that, when you buy a lens you are not just paying for image quality. Marque lenses may be better made than those from independent companies and are consequently more likely to withstand years of hard use. Their design and finish will be consistent with other lenses in the same range, and with the camera bodies which they are designed to accompany, and the lens range may include more sophisticated and specialized lenses that you cannot get elsewhere.
Digital cameras may be sold in ‘body-only’ form, but this option will normally only appeal to buyers who already have compatible lenses. Most buyers will choose a camera kit that includes both the body and a standard lens.
Although most new cameras come with zoom lenses fitted these days, until fairly recently film cameras were supplied with only a fixed focal length lens. Atypical standard lens has a focal length of 50mm or thereabouts, and is designed for general-purpose photography. Its angle of view closely matches that of the human eye, although some photographers feel that a 45mm lens is closer to the ideal. With a lens like this, the framing and perspective of shots looks natural, and this type has a large maximum aperture of f/1.8 or f/1.4. This makes it especially useful for shooting in low light or where you want shallow depth-of-field.
50mm standard lenses are light and compact, but some makers have produced shorter ‘pancake’ lenses for photographers who want their camera and lens to be slimmer still. These have a focal length of around 40mm and a smaller maximum aperture off/2.8, but their optical quality is usually excellent. They are more expensive, but for many photographers they are also more useful as standard lenses.
Standard zoom lenses
The zoom lenses that are a standard feature of most cameras sold today offer greater flexibility than the fixed focal length lenses of the past, covering a range of focal lengths from wide-angle through to telephoto.
On a film camera, the usual standard zoom has a focal range of 28-90mm. On a digital SLR it is usually 18-55mm, which gives a comparable angle of view. You can use a 28-90mm film lens on a digital SLR, but the focal range is not ideal, because it does not provide proper wide-angle coverage on the smaller sensor.
Zoom ranges are sometimes quoted as a factor – for example, ‘3x’, ‘4x’ or ‘5x’. This figure indicates the change in magnification across the zoom range. A 28-gomm zoom offers a 3.2x zoom range, for example, while a 28-135mm is a 4.8x zoom.
Zoom lenses with a longer focal range are more desirable, but they are also more expensive and much heavier. A lighter, inexpensive lens may be more useful on a camera that is going to be carried around all day.
USES FOR STANDARD LENSES
Standard prime lenses are good for full-length portraits, because you stand far enough away to prevent distortion but not so far away that you run out of space when working in small rooms.
The large maximum aperture of a standard prime lens will make it ideal for taking pictures at parties and celebrations where you don’t want to use flash, which could disturb the subjects.
A standard 28-90mm zoom lens (or its digital equivalent) is perfect for everyday photography, because it is compact and light and you will seldom need focal lengths outside this range.
Standard zooms are perfect for travel photography as well, in situations where there is often little time to change lenses or viewpoints. For this kind of work, a slightly longer zoom range (28-135mm, for example) can be an advantage.
A wide-angle lens enables you to get more into the frame of your image. At the same time it makes objects seem smaller and further away. A wide-angle lens has an obvious, practical value if you are trying to photograph a sweeping landscape or if you are taking pictures in confined spaces.
The term ‘wide-angle’ covers a range of focal lengths. On a 35mm film camera, a 35mm lens would be considered a modest wide-angle and a 28mm lens a ‘proper’ wide-angle. 20mm lenses are ‘super-wides’, and considerably more expensive.
The standard zooms supplied with modern cameras usually have a minimum focal length of 28mm, which is probably as wide as you will usually need to go.
Just as there are super-wide fixed focal length lenses, so there are wide-angle zooms, which cover similar focal lengths, such as 16-40mm on a 35mm camera, or a 10-20mm lens on a digital SLR. These lenses are bulkier and more expensive than standard zooms.
Wide-angle lenses have a profound effect on perspective. This is not because of their inherent optical properties – the explanation is, in fact, much simpler. Wide-angle lenses make objects appear smaller, with the result that you move closer to fill the frame. The fact of doing this exaggerates the difference in size between nearby objects and those further away. In turn, this produces the ‘keystoning’ effect which is often seen when tall buildings have been photographed from their base. However, this exaggeration of perspective can have creative uses, as well. The dramatic size differences between close and distant objects produce a strong feeling of three-dimensional depth and compositional ‘movement’ in images taken in this way.
In common with most specialist equipment, wide-angle lenses have both advantages and disadvantages. Their most obvious advantage is that they enable you to get more into your picture. They also offer more depth-of-field than lenses of longer focal lengths at a given aperture, so that it is easier to get both close-up and distant subjects sharp at the same time.
One downside of wide-angle lenses is that they can introduce distortion. This distortion manifests itself in two different ways. The most obvious is perspective distortion, in which the walls of tall buildings, for example, appear to converge, or objects at the edge of the frame appear to be toppling inwards. This undesirable effect is called ‘converging verticals’, or ‘keystoning’. It is not a fault in the lens, but simply a reflection of the fact that you tend to stand closer to your subject with a wide-angle lens, and this means that you tilt the camera more to take in tall objects. If possible, you should compose your shots in such a way that the camera can be kept level.
The wide-angle setting of zoom lenses can often cause another unwanted effect known as ‘barrel distortion’ to occur in images as well. In this case, the centre of the image appears to bulge outwards, and straight lines become bowed. This is one of the compromises inherent in zoom lens design.
USES FOR WIDE-ANGLE LENSES
Huge, sweeping landscapes can only be captured with a wide-angle lens. With longer focal lengths you are restricted to picking out interesting details.
Domestic interiors can be quite cramped, making photography difficult. A wide-angle lens will make a room look larger and enables you to get more people into the shot.
Landmarks and tourist attractions are often hemmed in by other buildings, leaving you no room to stand back to take the picture unless you have a wide-angle lens.
The big differences in size between close and distant objects enable you to produce surreal compositions in which everyday objects take on a monumental and dramatic appearance.
Like telescopes or binoculars, telephoto lenses magnify distant objects. They are essential for wildlife photography and for taking good pictures of many sports. Telephoto lenses can also be useful for picking out details in landscapes, or for head-and-shoulders portrait shots.
Like other lenses, telephotos are categorized according to their focal length. On a 35mm film camera, a 100mm lens would be a ‘short’ telephoto, a 200mm lens would be a ‘medium’ telephoto and a lens of 400mm or longer would be a ‘long’ telephoto.
Due to the magnification factor from their smaller sensor sizes, digital SLRs make telephoto lenses ‘longer’. Fitted to a digital SLR, a 200mm lens would have an equivalent focal length of around 320mm, and a 400mm lens would become a 640mm.
Professional photographers use fixed focal length, or ‘prime’, telephoto lenses. This is because they have wider maximum apertures which enable them to shoot in low light. This is essential for many sports, especially those held indoors under artificial lighting.
Telephoto zoom lenses
Telephoto zooms are more versatile than standard zoom lenses but have smaller maximum apertures. However, their flexibility and lower cost make them better-suited to general purpose photography.
Most ‘kit’ zooms (those supplied with the camera) have a maximum focal length of between 90 and 105mm, depending on the lens. This is not enough for sports and wildlife photography, and there may be other occasions in your photographic life when a longer lens is desirable or even essential.
Do bear in mind that the longer the focal length, the more difficult it will be to get steady shots. Small movements of the camera become magnified with long focal lengths and this causes two problems. Firstly, the subject will appear to bounce around the frame a lot more and it will be difficult to keep it centred. Secondly, camera-shake can cause blur at shutter speeds which would be ‘safe’ at normal focal lengths.
ADVANTAGES OF TELEPHOTO LENSES
Wildlife photography is difficult or impossible without telephoto lenses, since animals and birds frighten easily if you get too close.
Many sports are impossible to photograph successfully without a telephoto lens because spectator areas are a long way from the action.
Telephoto lenses can produce striking landscape shots, since they enable you to pick out distant details and ‘flatten’ perspective.
Portrait shots can be improved by throwing backgrounds out of focus. This requires shallow depth-of-field, a characteristic of telephoto lenses.
To find the minimum safe shutter speed, divide 1 by the focal length being used. With a 200mm lens, this gives a shutter speed of 1/200sec. Although most of the time this works, there is no absolute guarantee of sharpness and it may still be possible to see camera-shake at 1/400sec.
Some telephoto lenses have image-stabilization mechanisms which move elements within the lens to counteract any movement during the exposure. These can help you get sharp shots and shutter speeds two to four times slower than normal.
DISADVANTAGES OF TELEPHOTO LENSES
Telephoto lenses appear to ‘compress’ perspective. Unlike wide-angles, they reproduce subjects and their backgrounds at their true relative sizes, or at least closer to them.
This effect will become obvious if you attempt to photograph a tree, for example, against a distant mountain. If you fill the frame with the tree in both cases, the wide-angle lens will make the mountain tiny, while the telephoto will make it look much larger.
Telephoto lenses also make objects at different distances look closer together.
At the extreme limits of optical design are ultra-wide and ultra-long lenses which can produce dramatic visual effects. However, these are also expensive and challenging to use.
Ultra-wide-angle lenses have focal lengths of 20mm or less. It is difficult to design lenses with good optical performance at these angles, and to make them render straight lines. ‘Fisheye’ lenses have even shorter focal lengths, but here the battle to reproduce lines as straight has been abandoned, and these lenses produce an almost spherical view of the world – hence the term ‘fisheye’. It is important to check the specifications of lenses in the 15-20mm range, because some will be genuine wide-angles and some will be fisheyes.
Ultra-wide-angle lenses can be difficult to use for a number of reasons. To avoid dramatically converging verticals (keystoning), it is important to keep the camera level when shooting, and many architectural photographers will use a tripod and a spirit level as they set up their shot to ensure that this is the case.
Another disadvantage of ultra-wide-angle lenses is that it may not be possible to use filters with them, either. The front element of the lens may well be so curved that it protrudes outwards too far, and the angle of view will be so wide that many filter fittings will intrude on the edges of the frame.
Ultra-long telephoto lenses
Ultra-long telephotos pose different problems. These are lenses with focal lengths of 400mm or longer. The problems are related to weight and magnification. These lenses are so heavy that it may be impossible to hand-hold them for more than a few seconds. Most photographers mount them on sturdy tripods instead.
USES OF EXTREME LENSES
Due to its scale, architectural photography can be quite a challenge. An ultra-wide-angle lens may be the only way to capture the subject in its entirety from the viewpoint available.
It is very difficult to fully capture the interiors of buildings – whether they are small or large – without an ultra-wide-angle lens. Other lenses can only capture sections or details.
In the case of sports that take place on a large pitch, such as baseball or soccer, you will need an ultra-telephoto lens to fill the frame with individual players.
At air shows, the public is kept well back from the display areas, so if you want to photograph aeroplanes in action, an ultra-telephoto lens will be essential.
A tripod is also necessary to help you keep the subject framed correctly. At these magnifications, the slightest movement is multiplied drastically, so hand-holding the camera is not really a viable option.
It is possible to increase the focal lengths of lenses with a ‘teleconverter’. These are supplementary lenses which fit between the camera body and the lens and magnify the image by a fixed amount, such as 1.4x, 2x or 3x. They are a much cheaper alternative to long-range telephoto lenses, but they do have drawbacks. The most serious is that they reduce the maximum aperture of the lens. A 1.4x converter will reduce the aperture by 1 stop, a 2x converter by 2 stops and a 3x converter by 3 stops. This reduction in the size of aperture increases the risk of camera-shake or subject movement in low light levels.
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