Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tips for Shooting Snowy Scenes

Calgary is getting a hefty helping of snow and it has motivated me to do two things, one of which I like and the other not so much. The latter has to do with plowing the snow off the sidewalk, which stinks as the snow is terribly wet and heavy (at least it's a good quick workout though). But it has also motivated me to write up a quick blog post (about time, eh?) regarding taking wintery photos. I'll keep this short and sweet as I'm really busy with my business venture, but I hope you'll find this information useful.

Overexpose - To newbies this tip might sound crazy. If you're shooting a scene that is already bright white for the most part, why on Earth would you want to overexpose the image? Wouldn't that blow out the highlights? Well in most cases no and instead you'll likely get the proper exposure.

To understand this, we must understand how the camera meters. I happen to have a video on this topic, click here to view it. In a nutshell though, the camera "sees" the world in a pleasant shade of gray, not 50 shades (sorry, couldn't help that :P ), usually around 18%. Thus, if we want to take a photo of a snowy scene with mostly bright white snow and ice, along with a cloudy and also fairly white sky, the outcome of the image will be dull. Here's an example below, a shot of my dog Daisy with snow all around her:

Indeed this image is underexposed. The snow is flat and Daisy is too dark. So we need to tell the camera to overexpose the shot to compensate for this artifact. This is where the EV button (one with the little plus/minus sign) comes into play on your camera. The shot below has been compensated to +0.7 EV and this has improved the shot; the snow is much brighter and Daisy looks much more vivid.

Batteries and Shrinkage - Cold weather is another factor to consider when shooting. Icy temperatures can make shooting physically uncomfortable for a photography such as numbing fingers or having to manipulate tiny buttons with fat gloves on. In addition, the cold usually takes its toll on battery life; the lower the temp, the sooner the battery dies. So to maximize battery life, try to keep your camera warm by tucking into your jacket if possible when not shooting (and turn the cam off) and remember to carry a spare or two for some additional shooting time.

As for shrinkage... no, not that kind... very cold temperatures can potentially damage the fine controls within some cameras, especially if the machine is allowed to cool to ambient temperatures. For example, tight tolerances between various components, like tiny gears for controlling autofocus or power zoom, could struggle (or even jam if the equipment isn't as rugged). For some cameras this might only be a temporary annoyance, but for others this might mean more severe or even permanent damage. Most digicams, even some "pro" models, generally have operating temperatures rated from 0 to +40 degrees Celcius (32 to 104 Fahrenheit), so be mindful of this range.

Condensation - For those who wear glasses, you're likely all to familiar with what happens when you come into a warm location from a very cold one; your glasses fog up. This is condensation and the same process can and often does occur with your equipment. Some quick tips to avoid this effect include keeping the lens on the camera which you used outside and not removing it until the body and lens have reached ambient indoor temperature, as well as keeping the lens cap on. If by chance you have forgotten to replace the lens cap before entering the warm location and you notice moisture forming on the surface of the lens, it's generally best to keep the lens exposed so that the condensation can evaporate freely (versus being trapped between the cap and lens element).

In the past I actually wrote a similar blog post about shooting in the cold as I had a request for such a topic; you can read it by clicking here.

Well back I must go to work... actually some dinner first. I will keep y'all informed of my progress with the wooden sunglasses. I think I'm about a month away! The ones I do have done already look fantastic, far, far better than the very first one I created for myself. Anyway, take care and happy shooting! L8r!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Solar Eclipse Time-lapse - Part 2

Finally made some time to complete part 2 of the solar eclipse time-lapse post. Let's get right into it, but first a quick warning message you all should read if you're not familiar with taking photos directly of the sun:

Without proper solar filtration, there is a very real chance that you could cause serious and irreparable damage to your camera equipment, and more importantly serious or permanent eye damage such as blindness. If you do not feel comfortable with such photography, I do not recommend doing it... even what I did can be considered borderline (and I actually don't really recommend my method either), but I'll explain my actions below.

Ok, now with that out of the way I'll start with a quick list of equipment used:
- Olympus E-3
- 50-200mm Zuiko lens
- 2X tele-converter
- camera hand-held
- Variable ND filter ... DIY type

Nothing really stands out from the list above until you get to the last item, a do-it-yourself (DIY) variable ND filter. I already have a couple of circular polarizing filters (one with a 67mm thread and the other being 72mm), and with a couple of adapter rings I can get the two to face each other. In my next video (yes, I'll get to it eventually!) I'll be demonstrating why this is important, but in a nutshell you have to have the linear polarizing plates facing each other (watch my Polarizing Filters video to learn about how they work if you haven't already). This way, you can "turn down the light" if you will by rotating the filter (the front part of the filter which is actually facing back towards the camera; the part of the filter looking outwards is the quarter wave plate and rotating that won't do much good).

Anyway, as you can begin to guess, I rotated the filters to a point where they blocked out almost all incoming light, thus allowing me to shoot the sun in a safer manner. Nonetheless, I must point out that this method is not a true solar filter. If you have the budget and you would like to shoot the sun more often, I highly recommend purchasing a proper solar filter. These block up to 99% of the sun's light and they generally stay put when attached to the lens, whereas the variable ND filter can be accidentally rotated, thus allowing the sun to burn a hole through your sensor or retina.

Even I would not use my makeshift variable ND filter if the sky was free of clouds, but on the day I shot the eclipse I lucked out. High altitude clouds strongly reduced the sun's intensity and at my location the sun was starting to drop closer to the horizon. On the downside, the clouds ate up some of the detail on the sun's surface, namely those massive sunspots, and occasionally almost entirely blotted out the sun itself. But I'll take what I can get with such events being quite rare here.

As for camera settings, they went all over the place due to the cloud over. With my variable ND set nearly as dark as it could go and with lighter cloud cover, my exposure was around 1/8000 sec for shutter speed, about f/10 - f/14 or so with ISO at 200; camera was in manual mode. With cloud cover increasing, I slowed the shutter speed to 1/320 of a sec with aperture set to as wide open as it would go, which was f/7 with my setup. Since the shutter speed was quite fast I didn't bother with a tripod... although it would have made holding a fairly heavy camera and lens a bit more comfy to deal with. Lastly, I didn't bother timing the shots; I simply took a few photos every so often and once the stills were in the computer I examined the timestamps to sort them into the video.

And that is about that. Again, times are busy for me, but hopefully in the next couple of weeks I'll try to finish off the long exposure episode that was voted for on my Facebook page. So until next time, happy shooting! L8r!

Edit: June 17, 2012 - Thought I'd add the video I made of the solar eclipse here as well as in part one of this post, since I've had some comments about where it is.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Solar Eclipse Time-lapse - Part 1

If it wasn't for my mother, I would have completely forgotten about the solar eclipse today! As it is I missed almost half of it! Arrrgggg!!!

Oh well. At least I managed to capture the latter half with decent results, especially considering that there was some high altitude cloud cover with the occasional denser lower-level clouds that would almost completely obscure the sun.

Now... seems I just can't get over this habit of working really late into the evening... or night... so I will follow up this post with the details I promise in the video. Interestingly, I found an alternative use for something something related to my next episode! But you'll just have to check back here later to find out what that is!