Digital Photography   

The Basics, Equipment, Copyright and My Thoughts  

This page has a bit of everything.  No pretty pictures - just information which I hope will benifit you, especially if you are "beginning photographer"

Background Information  

I have used Nikon series analogue cameras and Nikon A Series lens for over twenty years with excellent results being achieved with Kodachrome, Fujichrome and Ektachrome 35 mm films. I'll admit to having a Nikon bias and both my Nikons have served me well and continue to do so.  

In 2002 I decided to transition to  digital. I initially bought a Canon S-40 4 mega-pixel digital camera. I was impressed with the small size and numerous features including manual override.    I dislike anything automatic and the manual override features were beneficial to me. 

From here I migrated to the Canon G series cameras and used the G-5 and G-6 for a short time until purchasing a Canon DSLR.  My first DSLR was a Canon 20-D which was followed shortly later with a Canon 5-D camera which sported a full frame sensor instead of the 1.6 crop sensor of the 20-D.  A natural progression was to move to the professional bodies and I was soon using the Canon 1D series bodies – in particular the MK2N. MK3, MK3S and now the MKIV. 

Luckily, I have been able to convert along the digital camera body highway with relative ease loosing very little money as I sold one body to purchase the next model. 

Nikon Versus Canon Versus Minolta Versus Fuji   

The debate will always be there, however, the decision to which system to use is fairly straight forward.  There are many camera manufacturers, but when you decide to only purchase semi and professional grade cameras the choice is reduced somewhat to only a few of the major players.  

Which Company Produces The Best Camera And Lenses?  

This question is easily answered when you put aside your credit card and remove the monetary equation from the decision making process.  Part of the answer rests with your requirements – what type of photography do you aspire to – do you want to shoot landscapes, birds, architecture or fashion.  Each shooting genre requires specific lenses.  For instance,  if you are very keen on architectural photography a tilt lens is a necessity, however, not every camera manufacturer will produce a tilt lens for their camera.    

The reason why most professional photographers shoot with either a Nikon or Canon system is that these manufacturers produce a good selection of after-market lenses and accessories which are interchangeable with their cameras.  If you want to photograph mammals with a 500 mm lens you will be hard pressed to find one made by Fuji.  

To date, Canon has a larger selection of lenses than Nikon, but this does not make a Nikon a slouch!  A good analogy between Canon and Nikon is the luxury automobile industry.  A top line Mercedes, BMW and Lexus are identical in quality, comfort and prestige; they will both transport you from point A to point B.  The difference lies in what the buyer wants – the Lexus may drive slightly differently to the BMW.  The dash board layout in the Mercedes may appeal to one buyer more so than that of the BMW.   

I use a Canon system because I like the method of camera ergonomics and the menu system that Canon have decided to use; it seems logical to me.   I also enjoy the large selection of  L lenses that canon produces.   Does the Canon system produce superior images to the Nikon system?  No – images are created by photographers using quality equipment – the equipment brand (Nikon/Canon) does not matter.   

After Market Lenses  

Many users of Internet forums seek advice as to whether an after-market lens is as good as or better than a Canon or Nikon lens.   My advice, where possible, is to purchase a lens made by the manufacture of your camera.  Once again, remove the cost of the lens and I wonder how many folks would choose a Sigma or Tamron lens instead of a Nikon lens.  After-market lens were designed to sell to people who cannot or do not want to purchase/afford Canon or Nikon lenses.  

The lens is a vital piece of equipment.  I eluded above that professional camera bodies are more or less the same quality – this is true, however, a Sigma/Tamron lens will not match the quality of a L series Canon lens  - period.  

Canon L-Series Lenses  

With regard to Canon L-Series lenses (by the way L stands for love or lust - Nikon has nothing but VR).

There is a debate as to whether L lens are worth the extra money in comparison to the less expensive standard EF-Series lenses. I've seen some excellent images captured with an inexpensive plastic lens and it's hard to justify the extra expensive of L glass when you have seen these results.  However, L glass will consistently provide better results in a wide selection of shooting conditions.    

When I initially perused the information on the subject I found the whole affair quite confusing.  To save the confusion and second guessing I purchased L glass. At least I never think "what if I bought a L lens instead of a EF lens.  You'll note that there are a few of the EF-Series lenses that parallel or exceed the quality of a L lens (i.e.: Canon 100mm macro).    You purchase lenses usually but once - why not go for the best.  I am pleased with all my L-glass are recommend the optical quality, silent USM and dust and water resistance build of all L glass lens.  

How Do I Know What I Need - What's The Most Important - Bare Basics?  

Several people have asked me how I select my equipment.  Initially there has to be a need for an item.  I dislike lots of add ons, as being predominately nature based means that I have to carry the equipment.  After I have decided there is a realistic and functional requirement for a piece of equipment, I will search the various camera forums on the Internet and peruse equipment reviews.  I may then ask specific questions of forum members and on some occasions seek copies of images taken with a particular lens.  I also check other similar-interested photographer's equipment lists; if several individual's use the equipment, then it's probably an essential or needed tem.  If only one photographer has it then I'll reconsider.  

Rather than chatter on about equipment, which is almost endless I’ll cut this segment short by commenting on what I consider one of the most important pieces of gear that every photographer should own and use – and that is a GOOD tripod. 

Tripods are a necessity to maintain image sharpness, especially at slower shutter speeds.  They provide a solid platform to rest long lenses when photographing wildlife. 

The Gitzo range is superb offering several "pods" that are light weight and extremely robust.  The Gitzo explorer range is exceptionally versatile providing an almost infinite variety of positions the pod can be set up to.  

The next piece of equipment that should be seen as part of the tripod od the ball head.  I use either a BH-40 and BH-55 ball head with quick release plates made by Really Right Stuff.  Both these ball heads are marvelous examples of modern engineering and in my opinion a sound investment despite the high price tag!  When shooting wildlife I change the ball head for the more versatile Wimberley head.    

I would definitely recommend Giotxo tripods and the various ballheads offered by Really Right Stuff and Wimberely.  However, if your budget is limited then the next best choice is the Manfroto tripod and Gitzo ball head range.   

Read This Before You Buy   

I think is of importance to state that many new photographers to digital do not realise the time, frustration and steep learning curve that is required to master digital photography effectively.  I am not referring to taking the photographs - as these techniques are more or less the same for analogue and digital cameras.   

I am referring to the ability to use computers and computer software. 

Adobe products are the mainstream in the digital darkroom and these products cannot be mastered overnight.   I’d strongly recommend doing a basic course in the use of PhotoShop, LightRoom or Aperture to avoid the hours of initial; frustration and wasted time in learning software. 

Remember, that in addition to your camera body you will require lens, filters, carry bags, a good computer with lots of memory and RAM, flash cards, card readers, rechargers, portable memory drives - the list is never ending.  You don't need everything.  

Think about your requirements, your style of photography and where you will be taking photographs.  Join one of the many forums and ask what equipment other photographers use.  Many of the folks on forums are very helpful and their advice is usually not biased towards the sale of a product.   

What is the difference between a professional and an amateur photographer. 

Professional    

By definition, a professional is a person who derives a fee or reward from pursuing a certain task. Therefore, a professional photographer is an individual that derives a substantial income from their photographic work.    If you derive your main income source from photography you are by virtue a professional photographer. 

Being a professional has nothing to do with the quality of your work, however, the name professional suggests a person with advanced photographic knowledge and skills.    Professional photographers do not necessarily produce the best images. A professional is controlled by time and earning potential.  If a professional spends too long attempting to obtain an image, their profit margin is jeopardised. As such, a professional is primarily concerned with fulfilling the requirements defined by their client in the shortest possible time with minimal expense, thereby maximising profit for themselves.  They must be knowledgeable in photographic technique and have ability to fulfill this obligation to the client.  

Semi-Professional. Amateur and Enthusiast   

An amateur photographer can be categorised within a gamut of levels ranging from serious enthusiast, enthusiast and semi professional with either advanced, intermediate or beginner experience.  Although many amateur photographers derive some income from photography, it’s not their main income source and as such, can only be categorised as semi-professional.    

The word amateur creates an impression of someone who has the equipment but has no idea how or when to use it.  Although this can be true (they are called beginners, green horns and newbies), many individuals possess far more knowledge than a professional photographer and are classified as either serious enthusiasts, enthusiasts, or  if they sell their work, semi-professionals.    

Within these categories there are sub categories to depict expertise, knowledge and ability.  In other words, you may have a semi-professional who has intermediate experience, a serious enthusiast who is a beginner or advanced, or an enthusiast with intermediate experience.    

What is the difference between an serious enthusiast and enthusiast? Put simply, it is the expense outlaid in equipment. The separation is made solely on photographic equipment and outlay.  An amateur photographer who has outlaid twenty odd thousand dollars in photographic equipment is not someone mildly interested in their hobby, it is usually someone quite passionate who takes their hobby very seriously.  For example, an enthusiast may only have one camera and one or two lenses, however a serious enthusiast may have several lenses, two or three camera bodies, a light meter and several other pieces of equipment.   

An amateur photographer is usually not concerned with the expense out-layed to produce an image, nor are they concerned with the time it takes to capture an image – their goal is to produce the best possible image that they can produce with the equipment and time they have available. This is more or less exactly the opposite of a professional who is very concerned with equipment outlay, time and expense.   

In another league, and not to be confused with amateur photographers are the millions of people who own small point and shoot cameras and generate vast numbers of photographs ranging from birthday events and holidays to a family BBQ at the beach.  These individuals are not categorised as amateur photographers as they have no desire to read or understand anything photographic. They point and they shoot, and do nothing else.    

Don't Get Sucked Into The Digital Round-About   

What do I mean by this title? 

Digital cameras, computers are constantly being upgraded.  It's very easy to fall into the trap of replacing your camera every year for the next model, only after having learnt the controls of the previous model.  95% of digital photographers DO NOT use their cameras to the fullest extent possible, so why upgrade with additional features you probably will never use.   

Before you purchase, think very carefully what features you require and then select a camera based on what you want and the style of photography you shoot. If you only shoot family fun shots, then purchase a camera to suit this need. However, if you are super keen and shoot macro, animal shots, or in low light, then you will probably want to purchase a more advanced digital camera. 

If you are never going to print larger than small postcard size prints, and only use the point and shoot programme on the camera, then it is a waste of money buying a 25 mega-pixel camera.  

Once you own your new camera, read the manual back to front and learn its controls. Then practice and practice until the controls become second nature.  It's pointless reading the manual hanging from a rope climbing a mountain - read the manual at home.   

Don't Become A Computer Nerd   

Many people call me a purist with regard to my photography.  I believe that as much as possible should be done behind the lens of the camera and not in PhotoShop behind the computer screen.  Anyone can take an image and then crop severely to imply the photographer was right there up close!  I do not do this.  When I do need to crop I do it’s very minimally.   

Similarly, I do not use many of the PhotoShop commands that allow you to manipulate an image.  I am not a follower of the maxim of removing parts of the image and replacing them with different parts.  I've seen windows added to architectural images that in real life were not there!  In my opinion replacing a blue sky background with a vivid sunset is not photography - rather it is computer graphics.   My goal in the digital darkroom is quite simple..... I try to avoid it.  I really don't like having to fix a shot with a bad exposure or poor composition, so I try to get things perfect in-camera.   The only post shutter enhancement I do to my images is remove dust and spots, crop VERY minimally if needed, sharpen and adjust tonal aspects using levels or curves and perhaps use a velvia enhancement technique.   

If  you want to take photographs, learn how to do it from behind the camera in-situ and not in the comfort of your office behind a computer screen.    

Digital Camera Protection

Let's face it digital cameras are not cheap and compared to standard 35 mm cameras probably not as robust.  After all, it is really a computer you are holding, and hopefully not dropping!  

I protect my equipment with pelican cases.  These cases are tough, waterproof and come in a variety of sizes and colour combinations.  If the camera is not in the hard case, such as when I am hiking, etc, then I use a heavy duty soft carry case.  I use an assortment of soft cases made by Kinesis, Think Tank and LowePro.  The type of case I use is dictated by the photographic requirements and location shoot.  

 Invariably, if you are serious about your photography, you will end up with a few different types of soft and hard carry cases.  

Lens, Screen And LCD Protection  

If your wondering if the rear body LCD screen will scratch; it will.  Once the LCD is scratched it can be difficult to look through the screen to either compose or review your images/histogram.  I have protected the body LCD screen from scratches by applying a piece of virtually indestructible plastic marketed as the Invisible Shield. This product is available on-line or from leading camera stores such as Adorama or B&H in New York City.  

Of equal importance is the clear display on the upper surface of the camera body. Although you can also purchase an Invisible Shield for this window, I have chosen to use a piece of thick clear tape.  I cut the tape to size and stuick it over the plastic upper window - works perfectly and costs me "NOTHING"! 

With regard to lens and camera bodies, I sue neprene lesn coats.  these can be hand made or bought commercially.  The trade name is lens Coats. 

Use Of UV Filters To Protect Lenses

I protect all my lenses with quality 010 UV filters made by B&W Germany.  

I have read many reports on the pros and cons in using filters on quality optical glass.  Some folks suggest that a UV filter will drastically reduce the image quality produced by your lens in comparison to the image produced without a filter. Perhaps this is true in specific circumstances.   

I recently conducted a test to determine this for myself.  My 5-D was placed on a tripod and I shot several images at the same ISO rating, illumination, shutter speed and aperture.  I then repeated the shot, but with a UV filter added.  I found that I had difficulty in determining the difference between a image taken with or without the addition of a UV filter.  In some cases I thought the better image was actually the image taken with the UV filter attached.  My opinion (for what it's worth) is that a quality UV filter (B&W or Hoya pro series - NOT a cheap filter) will produce very little appreciable difference in the quality of your image.   

Put another way, a scratch on a $3000.00 lens is not an attractive proposition and it lowers the resale value of the lens markedly. 

Colour Calibration - Computer Monitors   

Most folks probably do not give much thought to the colour, brightness, contrast and gamma (measurement of white and black on an image) of their computer screen.  I certainly didn't until I realised that colour calibration is probably the MOST important aspect of digital photography.   

Different computer monitors perceive colour differently.  One monitor might produce colours and brightness that are very vivid, while another may produce dull washed out colours.  The reason for this is the age of the monitor, the type of monitor - whether it be LCD or CRT and most importantly the colour profile (ICC).   

The colour, brightness, contrast and gamma must be calibrated correctly to view correct colours and tonal ranges within the digital image.  This must be done before you edit an image, otherwise you will be "chasing your tail" when it comes to defining correct colours and tonal range.   You can change the monitor setting as much as you like, but from experience you will not be consistently correct, and consistency across monitor screens and printers is what you are searching for. 

Adobe gamma which is packaged with Adobe editing programmes is fairly good and does work quite well, however, the process of determining the correct gamma is done with your eye and is subjective rather than being scientifically objective.  You can set the gamma this week to such and such based on the grey shades, but next week when you check the gamma again, you may set it to a different value, because of a change to your tonal and colour perception.    In my opinion, and the professionals share this view, the only way to accurately and consistently calibrate your monitor and printer is to use one of the commercial colorimeters or spectrometers such as the Gretag MacBeth Eye One or Monaco Optix XR systems (two of the leading brands). 

These spectrometers are accurate and do not allow any subjective input (such as selecting grey scales in Adobe gamma).  To achieve calibration on a consistent basis it is recommended that you check and re calibrate your monitor every three weeks or so, as monitors can change in their output over time.   

The art of colour management is a very technical subject and I don't confess to an expert in this area.  For further information I suggest you search the web as there are several excellent web sites dealing with this subject. 

Digital Camera Work Flow - Use RAW & File Naming

Everybody has a different method for image enhancement and filing, and to be truthful, my workflow changes as I learn more effective techniques.    

If you’re serious about your photography, then you should be shooting in the RAW format.  By shooting RAW you are capturing all the available data that your camera’s sensor is capable of recording.  From here, you can do basic and semi advanced post processing on the RAW file is Adobe Raw Converter (if using PhotoShop) or in LightRoom or Aperture without losing information in the file.  RAW data is loseless which means that any manipulation to the file is not causing any damage.  In contrast a Jpeg file is not loseless and every change and save destroys part of the file (the pixels in the file). 

The process of shooting in the RAW format does take a little longer with the post processing that is required, but I believe the end results are well worth the extra time in the long run.    

With regard to file naming, there are a number of methodologies available.  When I download from my card to the computer using Photo Mechanic, all the RAW files are renamed and date sequenced.  For example the file from the camera will have the name changed to 2231 08 May 2010, 2232 08 May 2010 and so forth.  It is very unusual that I will ever get a file name that is duplicated doing it this way (unless I use another camera body on the same day with the same file sequence, which is unlikely).  Photo mechanic then automatically stores these files into folder with the years and date. Therefore, all images taken on 8th , 9th and 10th May 2010 will be stored in a folder called 2010/08May,09May & 10May with each individual image named with a unique sequential number and the date if shooting.

Additionally, I will complete quite a bit of the metadata in Photo mechanic before downloading (if possible).  At the very least my contact and copyright details will be automatically appended to the metadata during the downloading process.

What Programmes Do I Use 

The main programmes I use are Adobe PhotoShop CS5, BreezeBrowser Pro (windows) and Photo Mechanic (MAC).   I also use Pixel Genius Sharpener (PKS) for various types of sharpening.  

How Do I Store My Images When Away From Home?

I always carry a MAC BOOK computer  and download images from the CF card directly to the laptop.  I can then view the RAW images using Photo mechanic or CS5 and do in-situ editing “on the fly”.    I backup all files to 2 500 gig LaCie “rugged” hard drive units.  At any one time I have two copies of the files on two separate devices (3 drives if you include the lcomputer drive) to ensure equipment malfunction or hard drive failure does not result in lost images. 

I never keep images on CF or SD cards as these can corrupt at anytime (it has happened).  Further, I do not use cards greater than 16 gigs in size as the larger sized cards just make it easier to store more images before downloading, thereby increasing the likelihood of losing a lot of images should a card become corrupt. 

Copyright Issues

With the advent of global high speed internet access for millions of people, stealing images from websites has become very common.  Many people download and borrow an image because they like the picture and would like to have it on their computer.   Although benign, this is still stealing.   

Of more concern is the removal of an image from a website for use at a later stage for fee and reward with absolutely no intent to reimburse the photographer. Unfortunately, there is little a photographer can do to ultimately protect their intellectual and photographic copyright when posting images to a website.  

All photographers should copyright their images using metadata which is encrypted within the photographic file.  Furthermore, a copyright message should be printed on the face of the image. In many cases, this may degrade the image ascetics, but it provides information to any potential “photo thief” that this image is copyrighted.  Some photographers use a semi transparent water mark which is almost impossible to remove and covers most of the image.  For those serious in photography, registering your image with US Copyright Office is also possible.   

Every photograph should have as a minimum the following written on the face of the image:   © 2008 Iain Williams, All Rights Reserved www.Anaspisdes Photography.net  (or similar)  To obtain the copyright © symbol, hold the ALT key and type 0169 on the numeral keypad (Windows).  If using a MAC hold the option key and the G key at the same time. 

Further, the content of your website should mention that the images are copyrighted.  Although not foolproof, the disabling of the mouse save functionality on your website (alter the html script) will stop the average computer user from copying images directly from your site, although computer savvy people can get around this, it will stop Individuals with standard computer skills from copying images from your website.   

Finally, if you do find your image has been used without your approval, don’t just blindly ignore the situation.  Have your lawyer draw up a letter/e-mail of demand and send it to the person concerned asking for either payment, acknowledgement or removal of the image.