Professional Digital Photography Tips

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Is a Digital SLR "More" Professional?

When most people think of professional photographers, they picture someone holding a digital SLR - a single lens reflex camera. And many, many pros do use them. But not all.

One quality that sets professionals apart from other photographers is quality. And a digital SLR isn't the only tool that provides a quality image.

Some pros still prefer the light-weight flexibility of a rangefinder-style camera. Smaller, lighter and quieter than an SLR, you'll find rangefinder-style digital cameras on golf courses, in photojournalist's bags, and almost anywhere else their size and silence are an advantage.

One good example of the modern rangefinder is the Sigma D2.

You probably know Sigma as a lensmaker... but the company makes a small line of high-quality cameras, as well. And the D2 is a good example of the evolution of the rangefinder.

With a 20.7 x 13.8 mm sensor, the D2's 14MP image quality rivals that of any DSLR. And since it uses a Foveon X3 direct image sensor, the D2 has an advantage. You see, conventional sensors (CMOS and CCD) can only record one color per pixel. The X3 has 3 layers per pixel - one each for red, green and blue - so it can record truer, richer colors.

Plus, Sigma's added everything from a full set of exposure control options and a fast f/2.8 lens to +/- 3 stops of exposure compensation and shutter speeds ranging from 1/2000 to 15 secs. All in all, it's a package that almost any pro would enjoy putting to use. And a fair number do.

So, do you need a digital SLR to shoot like a pro? Not at all. All you need are the skills and a camera that offers quality images - regardless of the bells and whistles.

   

Three Reasons Pros Get Such Great Shots... and You Can, Too

If you've ever "ooh-ed" and "aah-ed" your way through a photo gallery, you're in good company. Many competent amateurs are stunned at how pros get perfect shots every time.

The truth is, they don't. Here are three ways you can get more shots like the pros you admire:

1) Research. Pros rarely wander around hoping to stumble into a great shot. They almost always know where they're going, when they should get there and what they're hoping to find. While this doesn't always guarantee a great shot, it increases the odds exponentially.

2) Patience. Great shots don't come on demand, and pros know that. They'll wait hours - sometimes days - for the right subject, in the right place and in the right light. Nature photographers are especially patient. My father-in-law spent many hours in trees - 50' to 60' off the ground - to get some spectacular shots of birds in their nests.

3) Selection. Pros don't take chances. They shoot a lot of frames. The difference between a pro and "average photographer" is sometimes found in what they choose to let others see. Average photographers show off any shot that's "decent." Pros only show their very best work.

Even if you only have a point-and-shoot, apply these three ideas, and people will "ooh" and "aah" their way through your photos, too.

   

Locate Any Shot

Pros tend to keep good records. But when you've been shooting for a few years - especially outdoors - it can be tough to conveniently keep track of exactly where every shot was taken.

Not any more, thanks to a clever device from Jobo.

The Jobo photoGPS is a tiny device that attaches to your digital camera's hot shoe and tags every shot with the location - with an accuracy of about 10 meters. And at just over 2.5 ounces, you'll hardly know it's there.

The photoGPS supports JPEG and RAW files and stores data for about 1,000 shots at a time. You synch the data with the picture files in your computer via a USB connection, using the photoGPS software provided. (The software works with both Windows and Mac operating systems.)

At $175, it's a little pricey for amateurs, but it's a great tool for digital pros who want accurate location data for their photo files.

You can learn more about the photoGPS at www.jobo.com.

   

Three Inexpensive Pro Tricks

Sometimes it adapability more than the price of their equipment that sets the pros apart. Here are three tips on equipment many pros use that won't cost you an arm and a leg.

Instant flash diffuser. Sometimes you'll find yourself in a situation where you need a flash, but want softer light than direct flash provides. No problem. Here's a cheap pro fix: Angle your flash up 45 - 90 degrees and use a rubber band to attach an 8-1/2" x 11" sheet of white paper around the sides and back of the flash head. The paper will bounce diffused light onto your subject, giving your photo a nice, soft look.

All-purpose "tripod." Carry a 6" - 8" square beanbag in your gadget bag. It turns almost any surface - flat or uneven - into a secure camera suport. Use your camera's self-timer or remote to trigger the shutter, thus preventing camera shake.

End cockeyed horizons. Most snapshooters wind up with horizon lines that aren't parallel with the top and bottom of their frame. The reason is that they're not holding their cameras quite level. You can fix this if your camera has a hot shoe. Several companies offer inexpensive bubble levels that mount in your camera's hot shoe. Using a tripod and the level, you can get straight horizons almost every time.

   

Why a Leica?

Fans of the digital SLR sometimes have touble understanding why some professionals have - for generations - preferred Leica's rangefinder cameras. Never mind that Leica rangefinders were for monay years the only cameras alowd on PGA golf courses. Or that Leica photographers were the only ones to get certain shots.

Here's the scoop: Rangefinders have a particualr advantage over SLRs... and it's silence. While digital SLR's have done away with shutter noise, there's nothing they can do about mirrors. The movement of the SLR's mirror makes noise. And on golf courses and in natural surroundings, that clunking noise might as well be a gunshot.

That's why so many pros have remained faithful to Leicas over the years - even into the digital age. Leica's rangefinders are not only unsurpassed in quality, they're the quietest quality cameras our there. And in certain situations, that's a priceless quality.

Leicas are unobtrusive. And they provide shots every bit as good as top-of-the-line SLR's. They're optics are unrivaled... their fit and finished unchallenged.

You pay more for a Leica - there's no question about that. But for some professional applications, a Leica digital rangefinder is unquestionably the best camera for the job.

   
How do companies edit digital photos today?

Pros Can Do More with a Digital Image

In advertising, editing photos used to be a time-consuming process. In fact, many ad agencies routinely turned to companies that specialized in retouching to correct or alter images - which added to their cost of production.

Today, digital photography hasn't just changed the the way we shoot and "develop" photos, but how we fix them, too. Computer retouching software like Adobe's Photoshop can do everything a retouch house can do... and more. Even better, the job can often be handled in-house by the agency's graphics department.

As with processing, the agency saves money and time by keeping photo retouching in-house.

Another piece of equipment that's a big help with photo retouching is a scanner. Scanners convert photos to digital images, again eliminating the need for any outside help. Once the image has been digitized, of course, the process becomes the same as with any digital image.

   
Why does it cost less to use digital photography in your business?

Digital Can Keep it In-House

Historically, unless a company processed a high volume of film, film processing was outsourced - even if they had a skilled photographer on staff. Space, chemical safety, silver recovery and many other considerations meant that processing simply wasn't an option for most companies.

The delay in seeing results led many pros to turn to instant photography - Polaroids - to set up shots, and then hope that the shot looked the same on the negative or transparency as it did on the Polaroid. Of course, while this option increased the chances of getting the shot you wanted, it also added to the expense.

The introduction of digital photography has changed all that - and helps to explain why pros and commercial enterprises were often early adopters of digital technology.

Digital feedback is almost instant. You can check a shot, make any necessary adjustments and shoot again - all in a matter of moments. In the digital studio, reshoots are almost unheard of.

But time isn't the only thing digital pros save. The same computers and printers that run the studio's business can also be used to edit and print digital photographs. This can save businesses engaged in digital photography a fortune in equipment costs.

And, in the end, keeping jobs in-house means faster service and lower costs for the customer, too.

   
What type of memory card should you buy for a high-end camera?

Choosing the Right Memory Cards

You probably already know that today's high-resolution cameras - sporting 8, 10 and even 12-megapixel sensors - require bigger memory cards. The rule of thumb is simple: The bigger the files you're storing, the bigger the memory card you need.

But there are two other important considerations for choosing memory cards. And these are considerations that become critical for pros.

First, not all cameras can handle today's high capacity memory cards. And that includes cameras currently being manufactured. High-capacity cards typically have "HC" in the card's designation. For example, Sandisk's high-capacity 8-gigabyte Secure Digital card is marked "SDHC". Before you invest in a high-capacity card - which can cost upwards of $50 - check your camera's manual. If it doesn't say the camera is compatible with HC cards, stick with cards of 2 GB or less.

The second pro consideration - especially if you plan to shoot sports, wildlife or any other fast-action subject - is the card's data transfer rate. Here's why:

When you're taking multiple shots over a short period of time, you'll quickly use up your camera's buffer. That's the built-in memory that holds the data for your digital photographs while it's being transferred onto your memory card. Imagine you're shooting Tom Brady running the ball into the end zone for a 3-yard touchdown to win the conference title... and your buffer runs out of space just before he crosses the goal line.

Ouch! Suddenly, that data transfer rate has become a career make-it-or-break-it number. Fortunately, some memory card manufacturers - most notably Lexar - offer a range of cards with different data transfer rates.

If all you shoot are posed portraits, then you'll probably be fine using less expensive "standard" cards. But if you shoot unpredictable or fast-moving subjects, then look for the data trasfer rate before you invest in a memory card. Some day, that number could save your digital photography career.

   
How has digital photography helped advertising, PR and journalism?

Instant Images

In the days before digital photography, photographers in the field would normally sned their photographs to their agency, newspaper or studio via messenger. For most purposes, image-related information was limited by the speed of air travel. (And even earlier, by train or steamship.)

But digital photography has ushered in an era of nearly instant image transfer. With a digital camera and access to a computer with a mobile phone card, WiFi or other Internet connection, a photographer can transfer photos almost anywhere - even while an event is still in progress.

And this access hasn't just affected digital pros. Now almost anyone can contribute to the digital information revolution. Many newspapers and television stations, for example, actively invite readers and viewers to submit digital photos and video of breaking news events - essentially turning anyone into a professional digital photographer.

   

Nikon Wows With New D3X

Full-frame digital SLRs have brought new life to the megapixel wars. Following close on the heels of Sony's A900, Nikon's new flagship D3X ups the ante for true system DSLRs. Boasting 24.5 megapixels, the D3X more than doubles the reesolution of the D3 (12.1 megapixels).

Full-frame DSLRs use sensors that are the same size as a frame of 35mm film - 24 x 36mm. This is far larger than the tiny sensors found in most point-and-shoot digital cameras - and even those found in most digital SLRs.

Nikon has taken full advantage of this additional real estate with a sensor engineered specifically for the D3X. (Ironically, the sensor is actually manufactured by Sony - to Nikon's specifications, of course.) The only downside? More pixels in the same space means those pixels must be smaller. They're 5.94 microns, to be exact. And this could lead to increased noise, though Nikon claims to have addressed this issue in design.

Much of the D3X is held over from the D3 - including the carbon fiber/kevlar shutter, the "Scene Recognition System" metering, Vignette Control and Lateral Chromatic Aberration Correction.

Another nice feature of the D3X is the ability to hold two CompactFlash cards at once. You can write RAW files to one while saving the same image as a JPEG file in the other... or fill one card up - which happens quickly at 24.5 MP - and then automatically switch to the second card... or, if you're a bit obsessive-compulsive, you can write the same data to both cards, creating an instant backup file.

One trade-off with the huge boost in resolution is speed. While the D3 can capture up to nine full-frame pictures per second, the D3X tops out at five. You can boost that up to seven fps in DX "crop" mode, but resolution drops to 10.5 megapixels.

Overall, though, the D3X is a big step forward for Nikon. But if you're thinking of picking one up, you'd better sit down. Nikon has set the release price at $7,999.95. If you don't need the extra resolution, Nikon will continue to offer the D3 - at $4,999.95.

   

Pro Lighting Secret for Outdoors

Outdoor light can be very uneven. And if you don't want your subject squinting into the sun, chances are good you'll wind up with a lot of shadow on their face. Here's a little secret pros use to solve this problem.

It's called a reflector.

Reflectors are exactly what they sound like: surfaces that reflect light. And basic two-sided folding models start at about $10.00.

If there's too much shadow on your subject, simply angle the reflector to bounce light onto them. You can use a stand or a friend to hold the reflector, and then shoot away. Your subject comes out well-lit, and you look like a genius.

Reflectors come in several sizes and configurations. A good choice for a portable reflector is a two-sided 12" model. They typically fold to about 1/3 their oringal size, so you only need a 4" spot in your pack or camera bag. Good choices are silver/white or silver/gold. Gold will warm the reflected light, which can be especially pleasing when shooting portraits.

Reflectors are effective for any fairly close work where shadow is a problem and flash might make your shot too bright or unnatural. And at just $10.00, it's one of the cheapest accessories you'll ever love.

   
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