How Not to Be a Photographer

• Make sure everyone is smiling and pretending to be happy before taking the picture. Candid photography? Never heard of it.

• Don’t take photos of people; they don’t want you to take their photos anyway. Just stick to rocks and plants.

• Make your rocks blurry and your flowers over-exposed. Then claim it’s art.

• Pump up the saturation and contrast on that rose, so it’s just (255,0,0) all over. Then everyone will appreciate the beauty.

• Print your photos, then scan the prints at 600 pixels per inch. Now you have 48 megapixels!

• Never switch from auto mode. Only scary people use aperture priority. Manual mode is for the fully insane.

• Or, switch to manual mode, and refuse to use auto-focus. The camera doesn’t know how to focus. It’s just blocking your artistic vision.

• Always talk about your artistic vision, and the wonderful community of photographers your a part of. Maybe people will start believing it.

• Say a 12 megapixel camera is 20% better than a 10 megapixel camera.

• Buy a $2000 DSLR, then stick a cheap lens on it.

• Set your new $2000 camera down to go to the bathroom. Follow the advice in 10 Ways to Get Your Camera Stolen. Why would anyone want a camera?

• Refuse to use anything but a prime lens. Those zoom lenses are too modern and convenient. They’re not sharp enough either. It’s settled. You’re not a real photographer if you use a zoom lens.

• Constantly talk about “real photographers” versus the non-real photographers that are pervading your art form. Make sure some reference to film vs. digital is included.

• Say that film is useless, because digital is magical and does everything.

• Say that digital is useless, because film is the only true photographic medium.

• Assume you should always keep your camera zoomed out, because whenever you zoom in, you must be losing quality.

• Complain about the scary focal lengths on SLR lenses. 18-55mm? What’s that mean? 3.06x zoom? Why didn’t you just say so?

• Assume that 4x optical zoom is the same for all cameras, and that all cameras have equivalent focal lengths by default. You have no concept of wide-angle or telephoto.

• Keep your new DSLR at 18mm all the time, then wonder why everyone’s so fat and distorted.

• Use big words like barrel distortion, pincushioning, vignetting, chromatic aberration, etc. You have no idea what these mean, but they must make you look smart.

• Refuse to buy a camera that doesn’t use AA batteries.

• Use the flash all the time. If you have beautiful ambient lighting and a fast lens, kill it with a blinding strobe.

• Never use the flash. The flash is evil. Fill flash is eviler.

• Say that digital is no good because all print copies wither and turn green in three months. Chemical prints? For digital? That’s crazy talk.

• Ask if you need a lens to use the camera.

• Print your photos, then DELETE the digital source files. You don’t need them anymore, right?

• Assume anything with “digital” in it must be great. You need a “digital” lens, with which you should use digital “zoom,” because it must be the way to go.

• Keep calling your memory cards “disks” over and over. Windows does it; it must be right.

• Refuse to edit your photos. It’s just not true photography.

• Create a 20-page policy booklet before you snap any photos. You have to stay at 50mm all the time, because that’s most photographic. Certain menus on the camera are off-limits, because they’re too un-photographic. Those menus are: white balance, exposure bias, picture styles, color toning, sharpness and contrast, and several others. You can edit on the computer, but only to make the photo look more like the original scene. Contrast adjustments are okay, but cloning is not. Dodging and burning must be reviewed by a committee.

• RAW beats JPEG. If you use JPEG, you’re an idiot. Make sure to polarize all your friends on this, and then shun the ones who have ever used JPEG.

• JPEG does everything RAW does. The picture quality is identical. You only need RAW if you’re doing lots of editing, but if you need to do that, the photo is no good anyway!

• Plan out a sliding scale of quality settings to save space. 10MP RAW is just for special art photos. 10MP JPEG is for normal shooting, while 5MP JPEG is for birthdays and events (because of the volume of photos). Use the 0.3MP JPEG setting for anything you’ll post online. Heaven forbid you should accidentally shoot a special art photo when you’ve planned for something else.

• Keep no backups of anything. Just one copy of your photos in My Pictures. Or, make a backup copy… on the same hard drive.

• Catalog your photos by giving them descriptive file names. How to give file names to photos is bunk.

• Make eight copies of that photo: one for your flowers folder, one for macros, one for colors/red, etc. Nevermind that you’re wasting 70 megabytes.

• Complain that your DSLR’s LCD screen is broken.

• Complain that new digital cameras immediately become obsolete. I didn’t know they stopped making SD cards and batteries.

• Complain constantly. Be negative all the time. Photography is crap. Print articles like 10 Reasons Photography Sucks and Isn’t an Art Form to prove it to everyone.

• When someone shares his photography with you, ask him if it’s Photoshopped. If he says anything like a yes, shun him. If it’s a no, accuse him of lying, then commence the shunning. We photographers are so good like that.

• Print 4×6 photos on an inkjet. You knew it was coming.

How to Use Zooming for Explosive Photos

This is an interesting technique that I used in my latest photo, The Explosion. Simply, you zoom the lens as you take the photo, and you get some cool motion blur, no Photoshop required.

The Explosion — the world pops using zooming

Now, there are some concerns that you wouldn’t face with your normal photo, where the focal length stays constant through the exposure. Namely, these are:

• You can’t do it on most compacts, because the zoom is locked while taking the photo, as it’s controlled electronically. Using the method on a DSLR, where you turn the barrel yourself to zoom the lens, is usually the only option.
• You can’t do it with a prime lens (non-zooming), such as my favorite, the Canon EF 1:1.4. There’s just no zooming to be had.
• You need a slow shutter speed. It has to be fairly dark out, or in daytime, you have to close down the aperture as far as it goes, and maybe use a filter to keep more light out.
• With a slow shutter speed, you need a tripod. Camera shake does not look good, even in a zooming photo.
• Don’t try this with film, unless you want to waste a whole lot of film. Getting the process just right will take dozens of shots, and you’ll need to see what progress you’re making immediately to have any idea how to improve. This is really a place where digital shines.

To cut down the light, I screwed on a polarizing filter for the photo above, on the Canon Rebel XTi with the kit lens. It will work just fine; any 58mm circular polarizer will do for the lens. It cuts down about 1.5 stops of light (like F5.6 to F9.5), and makes the sky dark blue, depending on how you spin the ring. You can also cut down on light with a neutral density filter, though I haven’t tried one.

I opened up to F14 for The Explosion. Granted, I could’ve gone up to F22, but there wasn’t a need to. A 1/8 second exposure was plenty slow. I turned the timer on, held the camera down firmly with my left hand, and began zooming with my right just before the shutter tripped. That’s one thing you have to watch out for—it’s easy to jostle the camera while zooming, and it usually doesn’t look good because you won’t get a sharp center. So hold it down firmly.

Try over and over to get something cool-looking. Zoom slowly and just a little through exposure, quickly and over a wide range of focal lengths, zoom in steps rather than smoothly, and try different subjects. A simple subject works best. I zoomed at a moderate speed and evenly for the trees photo, and though it’s a complex subject, it draws the eye nonetheless. Try doing this on flowers, still life such as marbles or a baseball (I should’ve tried it with those), or even a highway (that’s motion blur, but zooming could’ve worked too).

Try starting zoomed out all the way, then zoom in. Then try zoomed half way to full telephoto, or wide-angle to medium. Next, go from telephoto to wide-angle (zoom out) as you expose; the world will look like it’s imploding rather than exploding.

An example of stepped zooming

The above is an example of stepped zooming. This was with a long exposure of 2.5 seconds; since it was dark and indoors, exposing for that long wasn’t a problem. The picture is of a door at the end of a hallway, with the light from outside flooding in from around the door. There’s a brightly lit door on the left also. Instead of zooming smoothly, I zoomed from 18mm to 55mm using the in nine steps over the period of the exposure. This gives the light a cool staggered effect. I did 30 similar shots and this was the best; it’s important for the line around the center of the door to be sharp for my purposes, meaning no motion blur. I put the camera on a milk crate and held it down myself, since I don’t own a tripod. You can improvise in the same way.

If you don’t have a zoom lens, you have a digital compact, or you just want to try something different, you can hold the camera steady while walking and get a similar effect; perhaps even better. It’s going to take a lot of tries and good luck, or a tripod on wheels or tracks to avoid other types of motion blur. I can see some cool results coming about if you try this in a hallway; maybe one at school or a hospital (and you’ll get quizzical looks from passersby).

This is a good technique to add to your arsenal, and I don’t see many people doing it. I’m sure you could work something similar in Photoshop, but getting it straight from the camera is much more fun.

The Death of CompactFlash?

CompactFlash slot of a Canon Rebel XTi

Canon has announced the Canon Rebel XSi (EOS 450D outside the U.S.A.); the sequel to my beloved Rebel XTi (EOS 400D). While there are many revisions, the one that sticks out the most is the switch from CompactFlash to Secure Digital memory cards.

CF vs. SD

CompactFlash is 14 years old; it is the oldest and largest memory card format still in use. It owes its longevity to having the controller in the card instead of the camera, so that the technology can evolve with old devices still working with the new memory cards (for the most part). Other formats have gone through revisions that sacrifice a lot of backward-compatibility, such as the Sony Memory Stick PRO (2003, overcame 128MB limit), xD Type M (2005, overcame 512MB limit), and SDHC (2006, overcame 2GB limit). CF cards are also sturdier because there are no exposed contacts, and they’re bigger and harder to lose. The interface is pin-based like parallel ATA (used for hard drives), as you can see from the photo of the Canon Rebel XTi’s slot at the top. If you break or bend the pins, you’re in trouble, which is one thing that’s worse than SD.

The Rebel XSi will take SD and SDHC cards; a 4GB card is not unreasonable as the RAW files are 12MB each. Back in the day, CompactFlash cards were common in consumer-level cameras, such as the Canon PowerShot A95 (2004-09), but now they’ve disappeared in even entry-level DSLRs, such as the Nikon D80, Pentax K10D, and now the Canon Rebel XSi. How much longer before SD takes over entirely?

One thing I can say for sure: CF cards do not make good flash drives.

CF card reader

“Use as a USB Flash Drive by inserting Memory Card”

Look mom, I have the biggest flash drive ever.

CF card reader, diagram

Now I can block four ports at once!

No Safety in Multiple Memory Cards

For years, I’ve been hearing this wonderful argument: don’t put all your eggs in one basket; it’s better to have several smaller memory cards than one large one, so that if one fails, you’ve only lost a portion of your prized photographs, instead of all of them.

Seems to make sense, no? Distribution and redundancy are the core of safe computing, so we take this argument without question, spending extra to get four 512MB cards, even if the best bang for our collective buck is at 2GB. Yet do we ever stop to think that the entire concept is flawed?

The multi-card proponents convince us that all things equal (reliability and failure rates), four 512MB cards is the safer option.

But hold on a second there. Are the extra cards going for live, RAID-style backups? Are we afforded the advantage that while we sacrifice the space of one card, if any one card fails, no data is lost (RAID 5)? No. We have nothing. Until you get your pictures copied to your computer, there is only one copy in existence, and your work is in danger, either way. Your camera isn’t going to mirror your data for you. Maybe your fancy $3000 Canon EOS-1D Mark II does, but for us mortals, such extravagance cannot be afforded.

Remember that everything is equal, and we’ve just reached the beautiful world of digital permanence by splitting our eggs into four baskets? Billy’s 8th birthday will not be lost, because you had to spread the shots across four cards. If one fails, all is well, because you still have great shots on three other cards, right?

But it is that if that is important. Have you noticed that when you have multiples of something, you’re more likely to have one fail? In a family with three computers, one is constantly on the fritz. With five school-aged children, one is always sick. And with four memory cards, you’re four times as likely to have one short-circuit. The question is, do you want to lose a day of photos every two years, or an evening of photos every six months?

Our friend Murphy says that you will be losing the photos of Billy blowing out the candles, rather than the guests or the clean-up party. You’re going to lose digital photos occasionally, and the multi-card philosophy does nothing to prevent nor reduce this.

Someone is going to protest: “Richard, all memory cards are not the same. Some are more reliable than others; you cannot pretend they are all equal. Plus, you are more likely to have one memory card fail under intensive use, than to have one of four fail under intermittent use.” For them, I want to take this out of the realm of theory, and into the realm of practice.

How often does a door spontaneously fall of its hinges? It doesn’t; it fails when you open it. I have a Canon Rebel XTi, and it relies on a flimsy plastic hinge to stay attached to the camera. When the door is open, the camera magically does not work at all. This is one part I don’t want breaking in the middle of my adventure at the Grand Canyon (no, I’m not going to the Grand Canyon, this is an example). And when is it going to fail? When I open it in the dry, sweltering sun to swap cards, of course!

Memory cards and readers are usually rated for 10,000 insertion/removal cycles. We cannot assume that they’ll last this long; every time you swap, it’s wear and tear on the camera and cards, and with something as important as our photos, we want to avoid as much risk as possible.

Technicalities aside, trading out tiny, expensive, static-sensitive, photo-filled memory cards in the field is just bad practice. No matter how careful I am, I’m ten times more likely to drop my postage-stamp SD card in the grass at the park, or trip and have it fly into the river, than it is to fail on its own accord. Plus, you’ll miss great photos by having to switch memory cards. It doesn’t matter how well you schedule it—you’ll be clicking away, and the Kodak moment will pop up just as your camera flashes “card full.” It happens to me; I don’t even keep half the photos, but there isn’t time to delete on the spot. You can’t be ready for anything if you have no space.

You should have two memory cards, so that when one fails, you can order a cheap one online (with caution, of course), without your camera being completely useless for a week. Beyond two, there are no advantages.

10 Ways to Get Your Camera Stolen

1. Wear that “Canon EOS Digital” neck-strap proudly so the whole world can see what expensive equipment you have.
2. Take the camera on a plane; no need to keep it in your carry-on bag because you won’t be using it. If it doesn’t magically disappear, I hope you like broken glass.
3. Keep all your gear in your fancy new Lowepro bag, then leave it at a restaurant table to go the the bathroom. Don’t worry, it’ll only take a minute!
4. Use a lens with a big red ring around it.
5. Leave your big red ring and “EOS 5D” logo open for the world to admire. Some black tape and a Sharpie marker just doesn’t fit in your budget.
6. Stash your camera and pricey lenses in your hotel room. What could be more secure than a hotel room?
7. Leave it on a beach towel; you have to go surfing after all. Or, for extra safety, walk back to the car and put it in the trunk, then wonder how someone knew it was in your trunk.
8. Have a friend hold your bag. Oops, I forgot about your stuff! It wasn’t anything important, right?
9. Oh no, your brand-new DSLR has dust spots! No matter; just send it back in a big box labeled “Camera Repair Dept.” for warranty service.
10. Family portrait, no one to snap the photo? Just get one of the local bums to assist. Oh wait, he’s backing away slowly… must be to get the most compositionally pleasing shot.