Saturday, January 30, 2010

Photographing The Moon

For a change I'm taking a little break today and the topic will not be about photographing food. That is, not unless you still believe the moon is made of green cheese! But it may be of use if you want to take photos of the moon and have not yet tried to do so with a point and shoot camera.

Last night, January 29, 2010 was the brightest the full moon will be this year, due to the fact that the moon was in perigee, the part of its orbit closest to earth. The coincidence of the perigee and full moon is something which occurs only once or twice a year.

full moon Manual (M)...f/4.5...1/160...ISO 50

When I heard that the night was to be special, I went outside around eight-thirty in the evening to have a look and saw the full moon shining brightly in a clear, cloudless sky. So I knew this was to be a rare opportunity to take a good moon shot, even though I don't have a telephoto lens. I used my Olympus SP-560UZ point and shoot camera with an 18x optical zoom, set it up on a tripod and took several shots at different exposures before being quite happy with the one above.

So I would like to pass on the little bit of my experience I gained last night.

The moon is much brighter than you may think, so don't set your camera for a night shot or a long exposure or you will get a white blob surrounded by a white haze rather than a sharp image with visible moon surface features.

Here's what I learned from last night's trials and errors:

Use a tripod.
This will ensure a steady camera and a clear photo.

If you have a point and shoot which has an option for MANUAL (M on the mode dial), use that setting so you can set both the aperture and shutter speed. Otherwise try a daylight semi-automatic setting. Open your OPTICAL zoom to full, but don't use digital zoom.

Here are examples of what you may get using MANUAL at different shutter speeds with apertures f/4.6 and f/4.5:

moon at 1/4 sec f/4.6... 1/25 sec... ISO 100

This above taken with a slow shutter of 1/25 second. You see the brightness of the moon as a white blob with surrounding haze.

moon at 1/80 sec f/4.5... 1/80 sec... ISO 100

The next one above, was taken with a faster shutter speed of 1/80 of a second. You see the focus is getting better and the haze has nearly disappeared, but it is still too bright.

moon 1/125 f/4.5...1/125 sec...ISO 50

The third one above is almost right, with an aperture of f/4.5 and a shutter speed of 1/125, ISO 50. If you are able to adjust the ISO on your point and shoot, take it down to the lowest setting as you are photographing a bright object that doesn't need a boost in brightness. A lower ISO also insures less noise or digital static in the picture.

Finally I set the shutter speed a little faster, to 1/160 and am happy with the result in the photo at the top of the page, as moon features are quite visible.

I did a little post editing with CodedColor, an inexpensive editing program, using a minimum of Levels and Unsharp Mask, and adding the borders and watermark.

I hope you will find it as easy to do with your camera.

Good Luck!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Part 10 - Self-Timer and Flash

Hi again everyone. I'm back with another entry on how to use your digital camera for taking tabletop photos.

The Self-Timer Function

This function incorporates a pause after you have pressed the shutter button. The shutter doesn't open right away, but rather waits according to the length of time you choose before taking the picture.

Perhaps you are accustomed to using the self timer so this will be nothing new for you, but if you have hesitated to try this very useful function on your P & S (point and shoot) camera you will be pleased to see how easy it is to not only to put yourself into a picture but also to sharpen some of your tabletop photos by avoiding camera shake when you press the shutter.

Here is the icon for the self-timer and where it may appear on the back of your camera body:

collage 1
And here are the settings on my camera, which may be different on yours:

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And as seen displayed in the camera menu after entering the self-timer option you could have: Off, a pause of 12 seconds or a pause of 2 seconds before the shutter opens and the photo is taken.

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The procedure to use the self timer couldn't be simpler.

Assuming the camera is either firmly attached to a tripod or resting on a stable surface, find the self-timer menu and decide how long you want the camera to wait before it takes the picture.

If you are going to jump into a group photo, then give yourself the longest time in order to settle yourself comfortably in the photo, eg 12 seconds.

On the other hand, if you are going to use the timer to avoid possible camera shake during a tabletop photo shoot while you stand behind the camera, then set the shortest time lag. Then press the OK button.

Press the camera shutter button half way down and look to see that the green focus light doesn't blink. (If it blinks then you have to move the camera further or closer to your subject since blinking means the camera can't focus at the distance you have chosen.) When the green light is steady, press the shutter button all the rest of the way down. Take your finger off the camera and either run to join your group or wait without touching while it beeps a countdown and takes the photo. You've just used the self timer!

By doing this you have avoided any possible movement of the camera that could occur as your finger presses the shutter button.
While the camera is in countdown, you can do other things, such as holding a white reflector near your subject to improve the lighting.
That's another advantage to using a tripod. Your hands are free while the camera takes the photo.

The Flash Menu

The flash menu is usually accessed by pressing the lightening bolt flash icon on the back of the camera touchpad.
See again the top photo of the back of the camera with red arrows. Pressing the touchpad at that point brings you into the flash menu, where the icons are quite easy to understand.

collage 4
You may need to press the flash pop-up button (3rd photo) to begin using the flash.

flash 1
The flash will fire automatically when there is insufficient light. The camera decides if you need flash or not.

flash 2 Red-eye reduce mode. The camera emits pre-flashes before firing the regular flash in order to avoid red-eye.

flash 3

Fill-in flash. The flash will always fire regardless of light conditions. Useful for eliminating deep shadow on the subject's face when subject has back to sunlight, or in similar circumstances where you want to eliminate shadow.

flash 4 Always emits pre-flashes for red-eye reduction.

flash 5

Flash off. When the lightening bolt is surrounded by a circle or square, it means the flash will not fire even in low light conditions. Remember that a P & S camera flash will make your food look very flat and unappetizing, so don't ever use it for food photos.

I think that's enough for today, so I'll save the tutorial on photographing silverware until next time.

If you have questions please ask here or PM me.
So thanks for joining me.

Sharon (Canarybird) :-)

Friday, January 1, 2010

Part 9 - Setting up a Tripod

Hi again everyone. I'm back with another entry on how to use your digital camera for taking tabletop photos.

I hope everyone has had a good holiday season and New Year's Eve celebrations. Sorry my tutorial is a few days late.
It's been a busy time for everyone I think.

I wanted to give several camera tips today but once started on how to set up a tripod, I was carried away when creating the photos and diagrams, so it took longer than expected.

Setting up a tripod can be a little more confusing than one might first imagine. If you have tried it for the first time by turning all the knobs and flipping the locks, you may have ended up with legs that won't sit still and a top piece that hangs over and won't stay upright. Whatever you do, try these suggestions without a camera attached until you feel confident that you have it under control.

Here below is a typical entry level lightweight tripod, shown in its folded position. Total length is 14 inches, weight just under 2 pounds. Price around $75.00. Note that in this position the long handle, called the 'pan-handle' is bent downwards and the small crank handle is also folded down. First thing to do is lift up both to get them away from the legs (right).

collage 1
The next step is to flip up a leg locking lever (below left), and extend one leg fully, being sure all lower sections have snapped open:

collage 2
Close the leg lock lever and then do the same with the other two legs, being sure all sections are fully extended and the levers are locked:

collage 3
Only then should you open the three legs. Press the leg braces down and tighten the leg brace nut. Now the tripod is open, turn it so one leg is the leading leg in front of the camera and the other two legs are on either side of you, so you are standing in the space between them.

collage 4
Attaching the camera to the tripod:

Two ways to attach the camera to the tripod are :
1. by a screw on the tripod head which screws up into the base of the camera or
2. the quick-release plate, which comes in different forms, but is a fast way to put on and take off your camera from the tripod.

The tripod I show here has a quick-release plate, which once screwed to the bottom of the camera, will enable the camera to be snapped into place on the quick-release platform of the tripod head by opening the lever.

Here below is a camera, the quick-release plate with its screw and a small coin. The coin is used to turn the screw, attaching the plate to the camera.

collage 5
Here is the plate affixed to the bottom of the camera, and showing how to open the quick release lever:

collage 6
By holding open the quick-release lever with one hand, you can slip the camera with the attached plate into the platform, and then press the lever closed:

collage 7
By loosening the side tilt locking nut, you can then lift up the platform and your camera is ready to operate in a vertical position:

collage 8
When you were first setting up your tripod, after extending the legs, you may have found the head is pointing in the wrong direction.

If the tripod head is pointing in the wrong direction, you need to loosen the panning lock nut and swivel the head until it is pointing forward and the pan-handle is at your left hand.

The following examples are with the legs withdrawn so the tripod is shorter and can be used on a table:

Panning or turning around the tripod head

collage 9
Here you see that with the panning lock nut loosened, you are able to swivel the tripod head around.

photo 2
You can also tilt the head down by turning the pan-handle a little as though it were a screwdriver which will release the tilt up/down of the head. When you have the right angle for your photo, turn the pan-handle in the opposite direction to tighten the head at the chosen position:

collage 10
Here are the names of the parts of this tripod, and the parts of the tripod head.

photo 3
photo 4
Tabletop Tripod

photo 5
Here is a small but sturdy tabletop tripod which I sometimes use.
The legs will extend another 1 1/2 inches by twisting the black locks, and the central column may be raised by loosening the center twist lock. This tripod has both pan and tilt functions and uses a screw head to fasten it to the bottom of the camera.

collage 11
Well I hope this will be a useful guide if you are using a tripod for the first time.

It is always advisable to practise setting up the tripod a few times without your camera attached just in case you are unlucky enough to have it fall over.

Set it up on a firm, level ground or floor and check that all levers are locked. If indoors be careful that small children or animals won't be tripping over the legs.

I hope this has been easy to understand. If you have questions please ask here or PM me and I'll be happy to offer any help I can.

So thanks for joining me. I'll be uploading the next installment soon.

photo 6
Next time I'll show a little about photographing silverware, the flash menu and self-timer.

Sharon (Canarybird) :-)
(All text and photos copyrighted)
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