Exposure: Don't be a DFU.

I've read a lot of posts ... users exclaiming the exposure is off by a couple of stops on a lot of new or newer DSLR cameras. Well ... I'm not buyin' it!!!

The civilized world successfully conquered the principles of automated production well over a hundred years ago! And have spent the time since perfecting manufacturing quality and consistency. You can't tell me that the great many users experiencing variations in the manufacture of their DSLR's accurately represents the reliability of today's manufacturing process. There has to be something wrong with the user. Stand up, shake it off crybabies! Take responsibility for your craft! Stop blaming the equipment!!!

Instead ... start to understand the source of your own misconceptions ... do the math.

Just in manual mode alone ...

Shutter from 1' to 1/8000 - 1/3 stop increments = 42 possible settings
Aperture from f/3.5 - f/32 - 1/3 stop increments = 24 possible settings
Metering - 3D Matrix, Center Weighted, Spot = 3 possible settings
Format - JPEG (B,N,F) or NEF(RAW) or both = 5 possible settings
ISO - 200 to 1600 = 10 possible settings on a D70s

That, my friends means for every single exposure you make you have to decide which of the 151,200 possible settings works best for your shot! And that doesn't count all the other variations possible when you start using the camera settings to process jpegs! Sharpening, contrast, color reproduction, saturation, and hue (just to name a few) pushing the possibilities staggeringly over half-a-million choices!

You have to develop a working knowledge about exposure that allows you to quickly narrow your choices and zoom into the one ... I repeat ... the "one" that is the best for your shot. Here's my advice ...

Keep it as simple as possible. Set everything to default. Pick one format (I use NEF(RAW) and Adobe Lightroom for processing), use manual mode and learn about exposure. If you have already learned about exposure ... re-learn it! And most of all ... use your camera a lot and use it consciously - before and after image capture!

If all you want to do is plug your DSLR into a printer and get a bunch of 4x6 prints ... you bought way too much camera.

One of the better books I've read about exposure is Bryan Peterson's treatise entitled: Understanding Exposure: How to Shoot Great Photographs with a Film or Digital Camera. This book was originally released in 1990 and updated to its present 3rd edition supporting the growing nation of digital photographers.

Most of what he writes covers exactly the same thing you may have read about in innumerable printings before his. Smaller opening equals more DOF (depth of field), stop action with faster shutter speed ... blah blah blah. But he frames his teaching in very simple, practical terms that are easy to relate to and apply when shooting.

For example, he divides apertures into three groups: Story telling, who cares, and singular isolation.

  • Story Telling: Great depth of field where the foreground and background work together to capture the story ... both subject and environment are important to the image (f/16 and up).

  • Who Cares: Essentially, images where depth of field is of little concern ... subject up against a building or backdrop. Somewhere in the f/8 - f/11 range where the lens is sharpest.

  • Singular Isolation: You need just the subject ... no distractions from the surroundings. The closer to the subject the larger the aperture opening (f/2.8 to f/5.6) keeping the background out of focus.

These are principles that are quickly learned and applied out in the field. It can take a while to get them into practice but well worth the time and attention.

He also describes some very helpful techniques that are almost always available to you even when you don't have your camera! My personal favorites being Mr. Green Jeans and the Sky Brothers. I don't wanna spoil the ending but instead tell you that his approach is easy to understand, easy to remember, worth practicing and quick to success.

Others of you may have similar recommendations and are welcome to comment enlightening the rest of us.

Note: for the uninitiated ... DFU is programmer and help-desk speak for dumb fucking user.

i shoot nikon


Nikon D70s an SB800 & SB600

I've seen a lot of posts in the forums, D70 owners asking about the capabilities of this equipment trio.

Here's what I know ... since I have all three and have played around with them for a couple of months now.

Both Flashes Off-camera using TTL

Set the D70/s to Commander mode (Custom Setting 19) which allows the camera to communicate with the flash units on Channel 3 Group A. This is the only Channel/Group option on the D70/s.

Set each flash to remote mode. On the SB800 press select for 3 seconds to access the custom options menu. Navigate to the wireless submenu and press select. Press + or - until Remote is highlighted and press Select. Press select for 3 seconds to exit the custom options menu. Press Select to navigate from channels to groups setting Channel 3 and Group A. On the SB600, press and hold the Zoom and - buttons for 3 seconds to access the custom settings menu. Press + or - to navigate to the wireless option. Press Mode to switch it on. Press and hold Zoom and - for 3 seconds to exit the custom options menu.

The camera has two more settings for controlling the flash units off-camera. Manual and AA (Auto Aperture). Auto Aperture can only be use with a CPU lens and an SB800. Manual mode in this setup can control the output level of the flash units simultaneously. In other words, setting the D70/s flash mode to Commander and selecting Manual submenu allows you to set the flash output to full and down to 1/128th power. Both flashes will output the fraction that the camera is set to.
This is a nice easy setup for wireless flash with Nikon equipment. Fairly flexible and will give you a lot of options albeit limited to equally distributed flash output.

With the SB800 on-camera

The SB800 mounted on the camera opens up a lot of other control features to the camera allowing you to configure the flash contribution of each flash separately. I assume that the same features and controls are available on the SU-800 flash controller except there's no flash gun.
So, the SB800 can control the SB600 setting its output level and setting its own level independently. You can choose whether the SB800 contributes to the exposure or not by setting its contribution level.

This is another great setup stepping up from the previous one in that it gives you the freedom to set flash output individually. However, there's still one flash on your camera. To achieve fuller freedom you'll have to look at working with 2 or more SB800's.

Here's an image I shot with the SB800 camera-left in an umbrella and the SB600 camera-right with a diffuser for the background.

Hopefully, this will help others decide what type of equipment to purchase for the setups they intend to employ. Overall, I'd have to say the SB600 is a great little flash and makes a great companion for the D70/s but, has its limitations when used off-camera. The SB800 is definitely a step up but, then demonstrates the camera's limitation in a wireless system. The only way to gain full flexibility with the camera is using either an SB800 on-camera or an SU-800 controller on-camera with another SB800. At least that would be in the Nikon world of wireless flash technology.

i shoot nikon


Strobist Lighting 102

Well ... i may not have many readers (if any) at this point but, I believe in supporting my neighbors if not the photography community ... so, get out to take a look at Strobist. It's a great blog about lighting using off camera flash setups ... cheap off camera flash setups. The Strobist motto: LESS GEAR • MORE BRAIN • BETTER LIGHT. I've learned a lot and definitely appreciate what David has been doing. Strobist is a daily read.

Anyway ... more importantly, Strobist is conducting its second summer boot camp, Lighting 102, starting June 4th. Photographers from all over the civilized world will be participating and contributing. It's very exciting.

Strobist summer boot camp, Lighting 102, Check it out! Call collect! Call direct! But, call today!

i shoot nikon


Macro Afternoon

Today was perfect. Nobody home. High, even cloud cover. Flowers in bloom all over the garden. Time for a little macro photography. Macro photography always amazes me whenever I look at someone else's work but, rarely sparks any true inspiration in me. It's more of a curiosity ... a passing fancy ... a great way to while away the afternoon.

The nicest thing about this opportunity is that I can take some time with the subject. Think about the shot. Play with the exposure. I don't have to worry about fleeting moments or shifting light. It's strictly for me and the subject ... as long as necessary.

  • Equipment:

  • Nikon D70s

  • Nikkor AF 28-105mm f/3.5 - 4.5 D

  • Bogen Manfrotto 3001N Tripod

  • Bogen Manfrotto 3030 Head

The Nikkor AF 28-105mm f/3.5 - 4.5 D lens has a macro setting that I've found I'm fond of in this kind of setting. Usually, I'm far too impatient and forego the macro setting when it's hand-held. This has been a very good lens over the years, a little slow focusing and aperture but, then again, I'm not shooting for Sports Illustrated.

  • Camera Settings:

  • Focus: manual

  • Exposure Mode: manual

  • Meter: 3D Color Matrix

  • ISO: 200

  • Exposure Compensation: none

I need to digress for a minute and address a workflow issue that has been on my mind for a little while. I often exclude the practice of a pre-shoot routine when considering my workflow. That's a bad thing. I realize just how important it is but, it's really changed since I stopped shooting film.

Old way ... figure out what I'm going to shoot, go to my stash or purchase the film needed, make sure everything is in working order, put together my set up, load the camera and start shooting.

Here's the big change. When I would go to my stash of film I was making conscious decisions concerning the ASA/ISO as well as the White Balance (what filters might I need). Pop the film in the camera which sets the ISO automatically and then, the difference between natural and incandescent light was generally understood if not strictly paid attention.

Now ... I need to be aware that ISO and white balance are within my control and I'm responsible to make more than a decision about them. I have to set them myself! This is the part I need to rework into my pre-shoot workflow. Luckily, for this shoot, I had left my white balance set to "Cloudy" from a previous shoot but, don't always check it. I did remember to set the ISO so, I am making some progress. In case you're curious we'll talk more specifically about what I'm discovering of white balance in a later post.

Sample of the Afternoon Fruits

  • Exposure: 1/30 sec @ f/16

  • Focal Length: 105mm

  • ISO: 200

  • Exposure: 1/6 sec @ f/13

  • Focal Length: 105mm

  • ISO: 200

  • Exposure: 1/15 sec @ f/11

  • Focal Length: 90mm

  • ISO: 200

  • Exposure: 1/25 sec @ f/6.3

  • Focal Length: 90mm

  • ISO: 200

All the images I shot were in RAW format and none received any post-capture processing beyond cropping, Lightroom's interpretation of NEF and Lightroom's JPG rendering engine. Note: Nikon's version of RAW is NEF (Nikon Electronic Image Format).

i shoot nikon


Image Doctors Top Ten Eleven

For those of you who do not have connections with other Nikon shooters, there is a great community available on the web at Nikonians.org. One of the features I particularly enjoy is their bi-weekly podcast cast of the Image Doctors. Photographers Jason Odell and Rick Walker, ala CarTalk (without all the obnoxiousness that is charmingly CarTalk), chat about a lot of different topics involving photography ... specifically Nikon photography.

I was listening to episode #37 a few weeks back in which they presented their top ten photo tips which, in usual Image Doctor style, turned out to be eleven tips ... one louder. I thought that these tips offer good sense and wanted to share them. They explain that this list is prioritized from most important however, I'm not sure that you should prioritize this list. I think it could be delivered in any order without impugning the integrity of any one tip. Anyway ... here it is, enjoy!

1. Get a tripod ... use it!

You don't have to go out and buy a $500 Gitzo Carbon blah blah blah. Get something that can hold your camera equipment without flexing and that you will use. If you don't think your lenses are sharp enough, use a tripod. Your images will be much sharper!

2. Get to know your flash? ... use it!

You will get better quality images where ambient light just won't cut it. Get a flash, learn to use it and consider using it more often. For instruction on how to use it off-camera see Strobist

3. Learn the basics of exposure.

Learn the effects of shutter speed and aperture. Take your camera out of Program mode and use it in Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority or better yet, Manual mode. You want to be making the decisions about how your images look not letting the camera make those decisions. Otherwise, your images will all look alike ... almost if made by a computer! doh! they are!

4. Bump up the ISO setting

You may think, "but my images will be full of noise!!!" ... well, that's true to a certain extent but a lot of that can be cured if you stop looking at your images zoomed into 100% on a 72 dpi computer screen. Which leads us to ...

5. Make some prints

A monitor is not necessarily the most useful tool on which to view a digital photograph. Viewing a photo at 100% on a computer screen is like looking at slide film using 50x magnification. Nobody ever does that. Your average loupe is only like 8x. Make some prints (or get some prints made) and let that be the judge of your photo's quality.

6. Learn to recognize good and bad light

Think about it consciously. Wait for good light or know how to handle poor light situations. If you recognize that the light is less than ideal, bring supplemental light and know how to use it.

7. Learn the Rule of Thirds

Don't "bulls-eye" your subject. The frame should be divided in three horizontally and vertically. Where the grid lines cross are the references where eyes, horizons, faces should appear in the image. Here's is a nice little reference on Wikipedia

8. Learn how to use the Levels function

The levels feature in whatever post-processing software you're using can have a profound impact on your images. Determine what is white, determine what is black and adjust the overall brightness. This can turn seemingly flat photos into crisp, deep images.

9. Get closer to your subject

Get in tighter and make your subject fill the frame. Pay attention to extraneous distractions in outside areas of the composition. Get in close ... you want to see faces. A good rule of thumb is: frame the picture the way you think it should be then, take one step closer.

10. Persevere ... don't be lazy

Getting good pictures takes perseverance. Do your homework before you shoot. Wait for the right light, compose with the camera away from your eye. Work at your craft it will payoff many time over.

11. Don't blame your equipment

If you're not getting the results that you like, don't assume that it's your camera. First, assume that you're not using it correctly. The reason why National Geographic gets the shots they do is because those guys know what they're doing with their equipment. They work hard to know their equipment before they take them on a shoot. Spend a lot of time with your camera ... experiment ... play ... take notes ... blog.

I thought those were very insightful if not just plain common sense, and hope that you find them useful. One of the things that I've been working on is using the camera in manual mode. Pick a subject that will let you think before you have to trip the shutter and experiment with the effects of aperture versus shutter speed.

One of my favorite resources for exposure is Bryan Peterson's book Understanding Exposure: How to Shoot Great Photographs with a Film or Digital Camera. It's really a nice, up-to-date reference that really explores the principles of aperture, shutter speed, light, motion ... as well as give you some reference points that you always have with you. Check it out at Amazon here and check out his website here.

i shoot nikon


Friday Night Lights

This weekend was senior prom weekend and having family of graduating age I was afforded the opportunity to shoot four couples as they prepared for their evening of emancipation, debauchery and erotica (oh, don't they wish!). Anyway ... there were parents and point-and-shoots everywhere all wondering who the "serious" guy was with all the camera gear!?! Although, there was some kid there, I assumed he was a family member of whosever house we were at, that was using a high-end consumer, digital video camera ... perhaps a Canon GL1 or something.

Anyway, I was just using my D70s fit with the Nikkor 18-70mm AF-S DX Zoom f/3.5-4.5G IF-ED. I chose that lens because I knew I'd have a chance to work in pretty close and 70mm works pretty nicely for portraits and the 18mm could give me plenty of vista doing candids of eight highschool kids. On the camera was an SB-800 Speedlight (What a nice piece of flash equipment! If you don't have one, get one).


  • Matrix Metering

  • Aperature Priority

  • ISO 200

  • White Balance: Flash

  • TTL BL (Balanced Flash Fill)

I set the aperture at the widest possible (depending on the zoom length) to keep the background as out of focus as possible ... I really need to get that f/2.8 glass sometime. I think I rode f/4.0 throughout the shoot. The time of day was nice. We were shooting between 5 and 6 PM in a nicely shaded backyard that offered ample diffuse light with some nice sun coming through. The only problem was some pretty busy backgrounds.

I played around a little with the difference between TTL and TTL with balanced flash fill (BL). I was getting a lot of burned out highlights with straight TTL ... probably because the flash was pretty harsh. I think that next time I may also try a Stoffen diffuser to knock the harshness down. I find as I look at the shoot that the BL works nicely with the ambient light at a distance of about 2 meters. But, when I backed off I really needed an extra boost of diffuse light in TTL mode and could have added more light with exposure compensation.

Shooting the candids I wanted to be able to act quickly so having the camera in a semi-automatic mode (Aperature Priority) helped support speed but I lost the flexibility of getting more accurate exposures in manual mode. It's all give and take, I guess.

All the images in this post were shot in NEF (Nikon's version of RAW) and had no additional processing beyond exporting them to JPEG's.

Gotta go burn some CD's for the parents ...

i shoot nikon


Okay Sport! Let's shoot some photos

I've been doing a lot of sports photography lately. My step-daughter plays on the high school's girls lacrosse team. I don't have any particular obligation to shoot the games except it presents a great opportunity to hone my skills and become closer friends with my camera.

Shoots and scores!

The biggest payoff is it has forced me to do two things: 1) press the shutter a lot and 2) process a lot of images.

Pressing the shutter a lot is a new concept. This is where new found freedom comes in. I have a couple of 2 gig cards and the luxury of not having to worry about how many shots I have left is quite liberating. I shoot RAW ... which is a topic for another post but, I get 358 images on one card. I have never filled a card and usually get around 100 shots per game. This would be the equivalent of 4 rolls and $100 worth of film and processing! To date I've shot and processed enough to pay for my camera and it's only 6 months old!

But I digress ...

What I want to talk about is the processing part. I've really been forced to look at and develop some kind of workflow to handle all the images. I've mentioned before that I've been using Adobe® Lightroom™. But, before I could I needed to make some sense about the generic principals of workflow. So let's talk about the post-capture process for a minute or two.

I bolstered my computer with a new 250 gig hard drive that I use strictly for data storage (image files). Before I insert my card into the USB card reader I create a folder on the hard drive using the following naming convention: YYYYMMDD.maintopic.subtopic ... EXAMPLE: 20070510.Lacrosse.Opponent. Then, I open that folder. When I insert my card into the card reader a dialog pops up and I select Open Folder to View Files. CTRL-A selects all the files, right-click drag to 20070510.Lacrosse.Opponent, select Move and all the files are moved from my card to the folder on my hard drive.

Then the processing begins in the following manner:

  1. View images and delete the obvious clunkers

  2. Review what's left checking for focus and content: flag the rejects

  3. Delete rejects

  4. Review what's left flagging images worth further processing

  5. Ignore unflagged images

  6. Rename image files

  7. Put folder on the docket for backup

Now ... if you're looking at a file folder full of images and wondering, "flag? what's a flag? how do I flag?" then, you're in the right frame of mind. For me, this is where Lightroom™ comes in. For others, it may be where Nikon Capture®, Adobe Bridge®, Apple Aperature™ or any of a number of other software applications too numerous to mention comes in. They should all have some kind of flagging function that can be put to use in this fashion.

If you don't have any software for these basic tasks at least check out Discover digital imaging with Windows XP at Microsoft.com, there is also Nikon Picture Project available for download at NikonUSA.com (if you have a Nikon DSLR it's probably still with all the other stuff that came in the box) or look at other Microsoft resources at Microsoft Digital Image Suite. These shouldn't stretch your budget too much if any otherwise, at the time of this writing Lightroom is selling for $299, Nikon Capture $130, Apple Aperature $299. I'm sure that other readers can make suitable recommendations of other software deserving attention.

So ... get yourself started with some basic organization and I'll talk more later about Lightroom and what it has helped me with. I'm also in the middle of a review of Scott Kelby's book Lightroom for Digital Photographers. I think you'll find it enlightening.

i shoot nikon


How i got d igit all ...

I started taking photographs when I was pretty young. My uncle is a professional photo-essayist. And whenever he would come to visit he would pull from his belongings a shiny metal attaché case which, when opened, showed off the coolest looking cameras and lenses. Nikon, they said on the front. I'd watch as he thoughtfully and purposefully selected a lens mounting it on a camera with "F" emblazoned on it. Just above the Nikon logotype ... nothing else, just "F." Keschunk! It was beautiful! He showed me how to hold it, how to focus and how to release the shutter ... 1/30th of a second! What a great sound! Then the film advance …

By the time I was ten, he had shown me how to develop my own B&W film and make contact prints. I was using a camera that my mom had lying around. It was an old Kodak something with a bellows that folded out from a front closure and it used 620 B&W roll film so, the negatives were pretty big. I had a little darkroom tucked under the basement stairs where they might have stored coal or something back pre-gas furnaces days. I could develop film and make contact prints about 3x4.

By the time I had reached high school, dad let me use his SLR a Canon FT QL … in fact, he just gave it back to me a few months ago. It’s been about 30 years but it still felt potent in my hands. I was a photographer for the school paper and year book and his letting me use the Canon was the perfect way to keep me out of major trouble. It also meant I had unlimited access to enlargers, chemicals, film, and the school darkroom! It had to be the most expensive three years in all the school district history. My buddy and I took thousands of photographs! I still have some of the B&W prints.

Right after high school I bought my first Nikon … well … Nikon made, anyway. It was a brand new Nikkormat Ftn (discontinued a year later). It was a great camera … not a Nikon but, so much closer than anything else I’d had. I say it “was” a great camera because it was stolen from me while on a trip to Denver with a couple of buddies. It was sad because it happened the first full day in our nine-day trip which included stops in LA, Santa Barbera and San Francisco. I was crushed. We stayed with a friend of ours in San Francisco that lent me his SLR for the last three days of the trip … so, photos exist, they just don’t cover the entire whirlwind.

When I got back, insurance money helped purchase my first Nikon … a used F Photomic Tn. I had it. The keschunk! Twist the f/stop ring to register the widest opening! The shutter release … 1/30th of a second! What a great sound! I used that camera for almost twenty years. It even got stolen from my apartment and recovered when a pawn shop reported it had received it.

But times change and I thought I needed something more … automatic … something more … updated. Around 1997 I started shooting an N90s that I bought used from a local dealer. This camera was sooooo cool because I didn’t have to shell out the extra bucks for a motor-drive! It was built right in! I could blast off 6 fps. Thirty-six shots in just over 6 seconds! This was the coolest. And I could hook it up to my computer and get all sorts of info about every shot! And it still sounded like a Nikon and it was all black and had a command wheel and programmed presets and would read the ASA right off the side of the film canister! And it ran on four AA batteries … forever!

Then, it hit me ... like a hot kiss at the end of a wet fist. Computer ... camera ... computer ... camera. Why am I spending so much money on film and processing!?! Why do I have to wait to find out that I have a bunch of crap on a roll that I just spent $20 on!?! Why don't I sell my darkroom stuff and beef up my computer, sell the N90s and go digital!?! It seemed as right as rain. Natural. Almost biological, slap-myself-in-the-forehead-duh-obvious!

So ... I've been shooting Nikon for a long time and now image making is all digital. I can put a 2gig card in the camera and take 358 RAW images before having to change the card! Then, I can transfer them to my computer and ... well ... uh ... I'm not sure. So many questions arise: white balance, RAW, JPG, exposure, color space, workflow, processing, organization, storage, batteries, printing, publishing, sharing, Photoshop®, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

The answer was ... start blogging ... someone must care.

i shoot nikon


Here's what I want to do

I've been taking photographs for a long time ... and have recently been re-energized by the purchase of a digital SLR. In other words, I'm no longer shackled by film cost and processing. However, I am now responsible for what I've been paying others to do for me ... process and make my photographs look good. And there's a lot to learn in order to capitalize on my new found freedoms responsibilities.

It's here that I hope to document and share my experiences with the new medium in hopes that others may relate, respond and/or be enlightened ... as well as teach me and is hootnik on readers. I plan to post articles about my workflow as it develops, software and equipment I use, new techniques I've learned, compositions, subjects, issues, problems and solutions. Somethings may be common, some rare, or even slap-yourself-in-the-forehead-duh-obvious. Why ... I may just take the time to spout off a little.

I shoot with a Nikon D70s and have two lenses: 18-70mm AF ED and a 28-105mm AF ED. These are augmented by an SB-800, an SB-600, Manfrotto tripod, a light stand, a couple of umbrellas and miscellaneous supporting gadgets, widgets, clamps, reflectors diffusers, and stuff. I've recently started using Adobe® Lightroom™. I use Photoshop® and know how to program for the web (at least that's what they pay me to do at work).

So ... essentially, the D70s is the Nikon connection. I hope that the information found here can at least be philosophically generic yet technical explorations will be centered on Nikon DSLR's, specifically the D70s until I upgrade or migrate to the Dark Side. At which time I'll change the title of the blog to "is hootcan on."

Also ... workflow will center around the use of Adobe® Lightroom™ although, most image management/processing software principally offers similar features with familiar goals. After all, we're just a bunch of photogs essentially doing the same thing ... capture, organize, process, publish.

I'm not too sure just how often I'll be inspired to put up new postings but, I'm impressed with a number of blogs I read and perhaps could live up to their inspiration. Anyway ... I'll at least have some fun and maybe someone will pay attention or show interest.

So ... here's to is hootnik on.
i shoot nikon