News and Views from Dave Wilson

Archive for February 15th, 2010

Zion – Day 1

by on Feb.15, 2010, under Photography

I posted my confessional entry earlier but reckoned that I should probably write something more about our day. In short, it was an amazing day – I shot about 600 exposures, filling an 8GB SDCard in a single day for the first time ever, and marveled at some of the most awe-inspiring scenery I have ever seen.

The five of us in the group started early at 6:40am to catch sunrise on the peaks behind the Zion Visitor Center. We set up in the semi-darkness and were in place for the 7:30am event but, unfortunately, cloud obscured the sun until after it had given up its magical, golden light. Despite missing the hoped-for treat, the clouds cleared about half an hour later and we got a good collection of nicely lit shots of the amazing view. This one is an HDR generated from 3 exposures.

After our early morning shoot, we headed up to Canyon Junction and spent some time around the bridge over the river before heading up the Zion – Mt. Carmel Highway, through the tunnel and up to Checkerboard Mesa where we turned round and worked our way slowly back stopping half a dozen times when we saw views requiring attention. By the time we got back down to the bridge it was time for a very late breakfast before we headed up to the top of the park road and shot more pictures on the trail that ultimately heads to the Narrows.

We headed off at about 3pm to find a spot to shoot the sunset and ended up just outside the park in Springdale where we tried various side roads until we found one which took us to the base of a suitable hill from which we could get a panoramic view of the lower portion of the valley. The three of us who scrambled our way up the hill spent a wonderful 90 minutes or so watching the light change on the opposite rock faces and shooting huge panoramas of the vista. It was absolutely magical!

Tomorrow, more of the same – does it get much better than this?

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Real Photographers Shoot in Manual Mode

by on Feb.15, 2010, under Photography

Well, I admit it – I was hopelessly wrong. OK, not hopelessly wrong but wrong enough that I need to confess on the blog and provide some information that contradicts my earlier (and rather popular) post claiming that I’m happy to keep shooting in aperture priority and wondering why anyone would ever shoot manual when cameras these days have so many cool automatic exposure modes to help you out.

I should provide one caveat. My original assertion about shooting manual being a more complex process than shooting aperture priority was based on my experiences using a manual 35mm SLR back in the 80s. Having spent some time discussing the issue with Raul Touzon while sitting on top of a hill waiting for sunset (during which the above panorama was taken), I’ve now been introduced to a manual method for DSLR users and am definitely convinced that this is the way to go when shooting digital since it does, indeed, use a lot less brainpower and a lot less button pushing than my “aperture priority + exposure compensation” approach.

Raul’s method is as follows.

  1. Set your camera on centre weighted metering.
  2. Set the aperture you want to use (this may well not change from shot-to-shot so this step may not be required).
  3. Take a reading from the area of the scene containing the brightest highlight you want to capture.
  4. Rotate your shutter speed dial to choose the correct exposure as suggested by the meter.
  5. Increase your shutter speed by one half stop (one click of the dial if you camera is set to work in half stops rather than thirds of a stop) to set your manual exposure for half a stop below what the meter suggests.

Since you will typically be using a fixed aperture (to control depth of field), this approach means you only have to spin one camera dial after pressing the shutter half way. Change the shutter speed until the internal meter reckons the exposure is correct then give it one extra click for your half stop underexposure and voila, you’re done.

This seemed too simple to me but trying it today, it worked beautifully. The main point of this approach is that you prevent yourself from blowing out the important highlights and ensure that you gather as much information from the scene as possible.

As a side benefit of this approach, Raul also asserts that you won’t ever need to chimp the highlight or histogram displays again (at least, not unless you are doing things like HDR but that’s a whole other discussion that we have not had yet).

I was pretty skeptical when I heard this but it really does work beautifully. Give it a shot and see what you think.

Updated 2/18/10: After another day of shooting in manual, I’ve realised that this is exactly the same method as I used to use on my Praktica MTL-3 in the 1980s except for automatically dialing in a half stop of underexposure. The half stop is also not fixed since you still need to take into account the overall brightness of the scene and dial in different adjustments as a result. In snow, yesterday, for example, I was typically dialing in a stop of two of overexposure since the meter on its own would tend to underexpose the bright scene.

Based on this, I will be using manual mode moving forward in any situation where I have the time to set up a shot – any landscape, architecture or still life shoots, for example – and will stick to aperture priority in situations where I need to be able to shoot without thinking (and am happy to suffer the consequences of not adjusting the exposure to compensate for bright or dark scenes) – parties, pictures of the kids, etc.

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