31 May 2007

Autofocus Details 1: Separate Focusing from the Shutter

The Nikon D200 and other models in the digital SLR range have more than the shutter button to activate the auto-focus. The normal and most popular way of focusing it pressing the shutter button halfway down and wait until the object is in focus. The half way down shutter button movement also starts the light metering electronics.

There might be occasions, where you want to separate these two steps. You might have focused on your object and just wait for the right moment to release the shutter without refocusing. You might have used the AF-ON button (1st image) on the back of your camera, probably by accident With the standard setup the shutter release button and AF-ON share the focusing. By splitting this functionality, AF-ON activates the auto-focus and the shutter release activates the light metering and obviously triggers the shutter.

Since I discovered this, I started using it for most of my photography. It is by far the fastest way of focusing, recomposing the image and take the photo with the preselected focus point.

So, how can you do it? Luckily, setting it up and resetting it, is easy.

1) Select MENU at the back of you camera and select the submenu with the pencil symbol and choose Autofocus.

2) On the following screen select AF Activation.

3) Under AF Activation, you can either select Shutter/AF-ON or AF-ON only. With AF-ON only, you split focusing from the release button. To undo this, just select Shutter/AF-ON.

Give it a try and let me know of your experience.

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29 May 2007

Strobist: Sensor Cleaning Demo

Just a short entry for today. I found this video at the Strobist's Webpage. You can learn here, how to clean the sensor of your camera yourself. The editing of the video is rater rough or non exisitng. You still can learn a thing or two. Follow this link to the Strobist's webpage. Strobist: Sensor Cleaning Demo

Don't forget to have a look at the Lighting 101. You can learn a lot here. This blog is one of my favourite blogs about photography.

28 May 2007

How to use the White Balance Function for the Nikon D200

All modern digital SLR cameras come with a white balance automatic. The Nikon D200 is not exception. Using the automatic white balance works in most cases and is sort of accurate. If you want to hit the white balance right to the point, you need to work with the preset function of the D200.

In the slideshow you can see the difference settings and what effect they have on the picture. I worked with two different conditions. 1) Fluorescent light only 2) Fluoroscent light plus flashlight. The captions of the images display first the Camera setting followed by the light condition.

Using the preset gives you very good representation of the original light conditions.

So, how do you change the different white balance settings? The engineers of the Nikon D200 made our lifes very easy with their design. On top of the camera on the left hand side, you find a button with three keys on: Qual (to select image quality), ISO (to set ISO manually) and WB (to select the white balance option). My finger is pointing to it in the first image. Holding the WB button and simultanously turning the backwheel, allows you to select a white balance setting. You see your current setting on the top display on the bottom line.

When you want to create your own individual preset, follow the these steps.

1) Get yourself a white sheet of paper.
2) Select the white balance option PRE
3) Hold the WB button on the camera top left for a few seconds until you can see PRE flashing in the top display.
4) Point your camera at the white sheet of paper. Make sure that you cover the whole image field. Don't worry about focus, but make sure the exposure is correct.
5) Press the shutter button.
6) If the camera is happy with the result, you will see the GOOD flashing, if that is not the case, do it again.

That is not too difficult, but there is one more thing. You can save your own presets and use them again in the future, without measuring the whitebalance again.
After step 2), you hold WB down for a short moment and turn the front wheel at the same time. On the top display next to your exposure mode, you see something like d-0 to d-4. These are your individual memory slots. Select one and proceed to step 3). The setting is saved for the memory slot, you selected.

I hope that helped and makes things a bit easier for you in the future.

26 May 2007

Google Calendar now mobile

This is a feature from Google calendar I was waiting for. Over the last year, I transferred my planning from my old fashioned calendar system to Google Calendar. I get my reminders sent to my cellphone via sms, receive confirmations of appointments... I can share my calendar with my wife or friends and can limit, what they can see. Google Calendar is linked to Gmail and emails with appointment requests are transferred automatically to the calendar. It is one of the things, I don't want to miss. What I was missing though, was solution for my cellphone, when I am out the office and want to make new appointments or check my availabilty for the next couple of days. Finally, Google produced a solution for my need.

If your mobile phone has the capacity to access the internet, you can log into your Google calendar by going to http://calendar.google.com. I got used to check my emails on the go and being able to check my calendar the same way is exciting. The capacities of the new feature are limited though. You can quick add new events, which is great, but you can't edit or delete current appointments. If you need a quick overview over your schedule for the next couple of days or enter quickly a new appointment into you calendar it is a useful tool. I assume that Google will upgrade the application in the future.

Check out the announcement from Google's blog.

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25 May 2007


One of the sources of inspiration for my photography from my teenage years onwards, were books on photography. There are some photographers, who's work impressed me and influenced me in the way that I look on photographs and on how I take pictures myself. I grew up in Germany, more exactly in Aachen a small town close to the Belgian and Dutch border. My hometown as small as it is had some moments of importance in the European history and sees itself today more as an European than a German city. Anyway, I grew up in this context and got exposed, especially in our local library to some books of great photographers.

One of the photographers, I got exposure to, was Henri Cartier-Bresson. He is the man, who coined the expression of the decisive moment, the moment where a photo starts telling a story. If you hit this moment in your photograph, you are close to a good picture. He himself avoided to be photographed as his work was well known. He did not want to be identified as Mr Cartier-Bresson, who takes these great pictures. Most of the time he worked with a Leica M camera with a 50mm lens attached. His skill was the compostion within that frame. The M camera allowed him to take pictures in situations, where a SLR camera would make the picture impossible altogether. Have a look at some of his work. It is worthwhile. One of the books, I received from some photo friends and one of my teachers is called in English: America in Passing. The book is currently out of print. If you find it a second hand book, it is a worthwhile investment into your learning. Here is a general link to some books by/ about, Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Alfred Eisenstaedt grew up in Germany in the beginning of the 20th century and immigrated to
as Jewish refugee to America. It is there that his career took off. He was one of the key photographers of Life Magazine and - I hope my memory serves me right here - was the photographer at Life with the largest number of title shots for Life Magazine. Probably, his most famous picture is the Kiss on Times Square on V.J. Day. Eisenstaedt presented himself as a very modest person and charmed with his humor. A lot of his images represent his skill to see the fun and joy between the lines. After watching a documentary about him (more than 15 years ago), I just loved his photography. Eisenstaedt on Eisenstaedt is one of my favourite books in my bookshelves.

Both photographers used as their main tool the Leica M system. The advantage of the system is the very small design and quiet operation paired with amazing interchangable lenses. It is a luxury, you have to pay for. Last year, Leica presented the first digital M camera after sticking to old concept for too long. Personally, I don't own a Leica M camera, though I wouldn't mind working with it. I like the concept and solid construction, but get far more versatility out of my current Nikon equipment, which I wouldn't call inferior. :-)

I will present some more photographers during the next few weeks.

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24 May 2007

Just some interesting links

I just checked some interesting links in my Google Reader and want to share them with you. Not everything is photo related. Enjoy

If you have to give presenations, you might want to read this: Compulsive Obsession with Details will save your Neck

Have you ever wondered how the Magna Doodle works? We had a huge discussion about that with friends tonight. Here is the answer

This is a bit of an older one from Strobist's webpage. It might not be the easiest way of getting a white background. Sometimes you just have to do, what it takes to do that shot. Check it out here

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23 May 2007

How to setup the Nikon D200 or D70 for remote flash control

After I described the setup and shared some test results, I want to go a bit more into the detailed camera and flash settings that I used. The description might sound far more complicated than what it is. Actually it is extremely simple. There are just a few things to remember along the way.

Let's move right into it. First, the description for the D200.

1) On the back of your camera select the Menu button
2) Select the Custom Setting Menu
3) Select Bracketing/ Flash

4) Select Built-in Flash

5) Select Commander Mode

6) You are in Commander Mode

The built in flash operates now as commander for your external strobes (SB-600 or SB-800)
That is not too complicated. Just remember, when you are finished working with your external speedlights, to set the Built-in Flash Mode back to TTL.

For the D70 or D70s, you have to follow this route. For the D200 it is optional and sometimes the best way of doing it.

1) Put one of your speedlights (SB-600 or SB-800) into the hotshoe of your camera
2) Hold the SEL button pressed for a couple of seconds.

3) You should see the following selection, if not move up or down with the + or - button.

4) Click SEL again shortly and move via the + or - to MASTER
5) Hold the SEL button again pressed for a few seconds to confirm to get to the following screen

You are ready to work with your wireless flash setup.
On your flash display, M refers to Master (Built-in on the D200)
For both options, A and B refer to Flashlights that you define to group A or B. The display on the SB-800 gives you the option of a group C as well, This option is not available on the D200, if you work with the built in flash. Now, you need to set up your remote strobes in the same manner as in the setup of the flash as Master with one difference. You select REMOTE as option. The screen on the speedlight looks now like this:

By clicking SEL you can select either the Channel (1 to 3) or the Group (A to C). Within your selection you move via clicking + or -.

Now it is up to you. Select your sync time on your camera. I normally go for M or S. With the D200 you can go to at least 1/250 s to sync with your flash. Longer exposure times are of course possible. Experiment with the manual settings. The secret lies in the balance between exposure time and aperture. Try it yourself and document the results for your own notes.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave a comment.

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22 May 2007

Free Tony Robbins talk at TED conference

The yearly TED conference (T for Technology, E for Entertainment, D for Design) brings together on one weekend 50 of the best thinkers and inspiring public figures to give a talk of 18 minutes each. The event is all about sharing ideas and concepts. According to TED's website, the conference in Monterey, California is sold out 1 year (!) in advance. This talk is from Feb 2006. I found it interesting enough to link to it from this blog as I found it again today. This is one of these presentations which don't lose value by being 1 year old or older.
It is worth taking notes and apply the new knowledge. Enjoy it.

There are far more talks available on TED's web-page. You can not only watch them online, but also download them to your computer. Follow this link

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Nikon D200 and SB800 working the strobist way

As announced yesterday, I worked a bit more with my Nikon D200 and my SB800 strobes to work in a setup as used by the strobist. I allowed myself the freedom to use the built in wireless strobe control system, called CLS. David Hobby from the Strobist Blog uses Pocketwizards to trigger the flashlights. There are two reasons, why I didn't go this route at least for now.

  1. The Pocket Wizards are rather pricy, at least from a South African perspecitve and I want to keep the expenses low.
  2. A quick and not comprehensive websearch did not result in any import of the Pocket Wizards in South Africa.

I couldn't find any volunteers today to work with me as models, so I had to the experiments on myself. At least I warned you. I thought about the setup for a while and came to the conclusion that I want to try to balance the outside light with the strobes inside. So, my first step was to do a quick measurement of the outside light. I did that using the spotmeter in my camera, checking the exposure of the vehicle in front of the house. A quick test shot pleased my expectation and started working with the strobe.

I mounted it on a lightstand fitted with an umbrella. A combination, I would also use at a customer's site. In the past I would have relied on the built in TTL system and would have chosen a TTL +1 or similar for the flash exposure. Well, this time I went straight to manual operation of flash and camera. I selected the aperture/ time combination I measured earlier and did my first testshot with the flash with a guessed 1/4 of the strobe power. Life would have been great, if the first test would have been perfect. I played around a bit with the right relationship between aperture, time and flash intensity, until I got the balance of light, I was looking for. Finding this balance, did take only a few minutes, as I also played with the position of the flash to avoid reflections etc. In this photo, you can see the even distribution of light between the outside and inside. Is this always the most pleasing result, I would go for. Probably not, but this was not the aim of the experiment.

The next step was for me to put a person into the picture to work with foreground, middleground and background. Achieving a nice exposure went smooth and easy. Looking rather intelligent and getting the focus right not that much. That is rather a problem of self portraits...

To get my ego really going, I took another picture with changing the balance of the light and depth of field to give it a bit more tension and a feel of three dimensions.

Later one of my cats decided to get cozy on the couch and it was amazingly simple to adjust the light to the new setup. I reckon that is one of the big advantages of working this way. You have far more control over the design of the light and can change settings on the go according to the needs.

The last image illustrates the setup of flash, camera and cat.

My conclusion after these simple shots is: The technique is fast, simple and allows massive amount of control over the outcome. It is up to me to refine it and apply it to different situations.

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21 May 2007

Working with wireless flashes

My Nikon D200 is equipped with wireless flash control (Nikon calls it Creative Lighting System - CLS), which simply means that the built in flash can be set on commander control and with that can remotely trigger and adjust external system flashlights like the SB600 or SB800. Is it a great tool? For sure it is! You can use TTL mode, manual mode or A mode. With the built in setup, you can control two external flash groups (consisting of 1 or more flashlights each). If you use a SB800 or the controller unit SU800, you have the ability to work with 3 different flash groups. You can download this document from Nikon for more details of the setup.

Is there a downside to it? Yes, the flashlights need to be in visual contact to the control unit. Otherwise the infrared receivers cannot pick up the signal and won't trigger. In most setups that is easy to accomplish, though not always.

I have been using until recently mostly the TTL setup as it is easy to use. Most of the time I would get the result, I was after, but sometimes it seems the communication between me and my camera did not flow perfectly.

A while back, I found the the strobist webpage with some great advice about using flashlights in a wireless setup. Strobist is run by David Hobby, photographer for the Baltimore Sun. I used the articles as inspiration for flash setups, but continued to work with the TTL setup. This weekend I decided to explore David's advice to go manual. Honestly, I was a bit sceptical, but went for it anyway. David also uses radio triggers for his flashlights, which cancel out the problem of visual contact between controller and flash. As I didn't have those, I just went with what I had.

Man! I was surprised, on how easy it was just to go manual. For the first few shots, I used a flashmeter, but packed away quickly. It was not necessary. All the information, I need I saw on the little screen on the back of my camera after did the shot. I just adjusted the manual output of the lights according to what I saw. That made the process quick and easy. Actually, as easy, if not easier than using TTL. I had the feeling to gain 100% control over the process again. It was almost like standing in the darkroom and printing my own images. A great feeling.

The objects of my experiments weren't very sexy and I did not bother too much with composition. The technique was more important for me than anything else. I will post some images over the following days, where I will use the newly learnt techniques in an attractive context.

18 May 2007

New Feature from Picasaweb

Google added a new and very useful feature to Picasaweb. You can now create Flash slideshow on Picasaweb and include them in your blog or webpage.
5 different sizes of the slideshow are offered:
144 px, 288 px, 400px, 600px, 800px

Here is a 400 px of one of my portraitsessions:

For more info check Google's blog:
Official Google Blog: Oh, the places you'll go....

Just a snapshot from the airport

We brought my brother in law to the airport this week and I was able to do this quick snapshot as the sun just set. The airport is the international airport of Cape Town. One of the smaller international airports in the world.

17 May 2007


Recently I took some portraits of a couple in my family. We started the session with some standard shots, interesting, not too bad. The sun was setting, and I took the pictures against the light.
After we actually finished taking the pictures, the two became more playful and I just continued taking pictures. The result? A lot of images, quiet a few of them totally blurred as I worked with a slow shutter speed and no flash. Even though they are not 100% perfect in the sense of composition and focus, I prefer them to the standard shots. Have a look here:

Nice atmosphere and all, but this one is my favourite:

I enjoy the fun and interaction of the two most in this image.

14 May 2007

Apple Aperture

In my digital workflow, I use Apple's Aperture to import and organize my raw images. Working with Aperture is mostly intuitive and uncomplicated. Aperture allows me to create folder structures for my images in any possible way, which makes working so convenient for me.

Beside the powerful organization of my images, Aperture offers image correction as well. Most of the adjustments that I need to perform, I do right in the application. All adjustments are non invasive, meaning the original file is not touched. At any time it is possible to go back to the original file without loss of any information. These days, it is only on the rare occasion that an image needs some more in depth manipulation that I turn to Photoshop.

Adobe released it's own version with name Lightroom recently. I haven't worked with Lightroom yet myself, but it appears to be comparable and some users give it better ratings than Aperture.

You can find out more about Aperture at the folllowing links:

Inside Aperture

Let me know, about your experiences with any of the applications. Maybe you have some other interesting links, I can add.

02 May 2007

Iron John Weekend

My friends from our Iron John group and myself went for the long weekend away to Sedgefield.
Some pictures from this trip are here:
Right click the image and select open in new tab or window:

Iron John Sedgefield April 2007