Monday, April 30, 2012

Thought Of The Day: Photography Work Flow

When you've captured over 1,000 images in a short period of time, the only way to get through the post-processing is with a solid work flow.

First, be a harsh critic. If an image doesn't grab you right away, delete it. Someone said that if an image doesn't look good as a thumbnail, it won't look good large, so don't waste your time with it. That may be extreme, but you can't post-process all 1,000 images (that would take a long, long time that most people don't have), so you have to draw the line somewhere.

Side point: don't carelessly snap away. Don't waste your time by opening the shutter too often. Put a little more thought into each image, and you'll have fewer to delete later.

Second, prioritize which images should be post-processed first. If someone is paying you or if you will earn money from a photograph, that's where you should start. Save the other images for when you have some extra free time.

Side point: organize your images in a logical way. Don't store them all in one folder. Don't forget to back everything up in case the unthinkable happens.

Third, post-process quickly. I'm not a fan of batch editing, because each image deserves it's own unique adjustments. Batch editing does speed up the process, though, and can help you if you need to be done yesterday. If you have a lot of post-processing to do, this is not the time to experiment with software--stick to what you know works. Clean up the photographs, but don't attempt to reinvent the images.

Side point: if you get the images correct in the field, you'll have less to do in post-processing. Make sure all of the settings are as you want them. A few seconds of extra effort before opening the shutter can save a few minutes in front of a computer later.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

B.J.'s Corner - Palmdale, California

B.J. MacWhirter was a local legend of sorts in Palmdale, California. He would watch aircraft land and depart the Palmdale airport from the same corner almost every day for about 17 years. That itself is not what made him a legend, it was his friendliness and kindness toward complete strangers that did so.

In 1997 B.J. passed away. Those who knew him created a memorial on the corner he frequented.

I few days back I stopped at the corner about mid-day (not the ideal time for photography). I had my Samsung NX200 with me, and captured these three images.
BJ's Corner - Palmdale, California

Does Not Perish - Palmdale, California
American Flag - Palmdale, California
I can only hope that when my time comes, people will fondly remember me with a similar passion as those who remember B.J.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Thought Of The Day: Sony NEX-7 or Nikon D3200?

The Sony NEX-7 is a popular compact interchangeable-lens digital camera while the Nikon D3200 is a soon-to-be DSLR. These two cameras are much different, but they do have one thing in common: the same 24 megapixel APS-C sized Sony sensor.

Since they both have the exact same sensor, it is logical that if one is considering the NEX-7, they might also be considering the D3200, and vice versa. So let's take a look.

With digital cameras there are three important factors: the sensor, the software and the lens. Now forget all of the bells and whistles and marketing nonsense--those things come after what is truly important (sensor, software, lens). What you are truly interested in is actual image quality. How do the photographs look? Extra features don't add to that. Yes, they can make "getting the shot" slightly easier sometimes, but they don't contribute to the quality of the final print.

The Sony NEX-7 and the Nikon D3200 have the same sensor, so neither camera has an advantage here. They're both the same, just in different bodies.

Software is next, and Nikon has the advantage. The D3200 has built-in Expeed 3, which is arguably the best software found in any digital camera. There is no argument that Expeed 3 is better than Sony's software. What this means is that Nikon can maximize the data from the sensor better than Sony can. The differences won't be significant, but you'll see less noise, more details and more accurate colors from the D3200 with a close study (the key words being "close study").

Lenses are where the D3200 really has an advantage over the NEX-7. Nikon has a large selection of high quality lenses that you can purchase. Sony has a small selection of not-bad-but-not-great lenses that you can purchase. Nikon's 18-55mm kit lens is a little better than Sony's 18-55mm kit lens. Lenses are just as important as the camera body, and Nikon is the clear winner here, both in quality and quantity.

One advantage the NEX-7 has over the D3200 is size and weight. The NEX-7 is much smaller, and, with a "pancake" lens, can even fit in a large pocket. If you are strictly looking for a compact camera with a powerful punch, you are not even considering the D3200. You are only comparing these cameras if you are interested in high resolution images for less money than what a full-frame DSLR will cost you.

Perhaps the biggest reason one might choose the D3200 over the NEX-7 is the cost. Supply has caught up to demand, and the Sony NEX-7 can finally be had for the MSRP of $1,350 (with a lens)--for a little while you couldn't find one for less than $1,800. The D3200 has an MSRP of only $700, which means you get better image quality than the NEX-7 for half the cost. Talk about a deal!

Again, if you are strictly looking for a compact camera, you would not choose the D3200. If you are looking for a compact camera but the NEX-7 is out of your budget (or if you just feel it's overpriced), consider the Samsung NX200. If you are looking for a digital camera with a lot of value that can deliver high quality images, the D3200 might just be what you are looking for.

  

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Photograph Every Day

I try to photograph every day. There is a lesson to be learned with each image, so there more I photograph, the better of a photographer become. That's true for you, too.

Some days I don't photograph anything at all, and I regret that. Most days I capture a couple images. Some days I capture more. The number of exposed frames is not really important, but getting out with a camera in hand is important. Getting out and doing is the goal.

All of these photographs were capture yesterday using a Samsung NX200 except where noted. It wasn't any kind of special day--I was simply going about typical daily activities, but with a camera nearby.
Early Morning Joshua Tree - Rosamond, California

Curved Joshua Tree - Rosamond, California
Morning Sun Over The Mojave Desert - Rosamond, California

Buds And Blossom - Palmdale, California

Pink Pedals - Palmdale, California
Buds And Blossom #2 - Palmdale, California
The photograph directly above and below are two versions of the same image, captured and post-processed on my Samsung Galaxy S cell phone. Cell phones can be a legitimate photography tool but are often overlooked. I don't typically make multiple versions of the same image, but I was unsure which way I wanted to go with it.
Buds And Blossom #3 - Palmdale, California
Grade Crossing - Tehachapi, California
Lost Wishes - Tehachapi, California
Shy Poppy - Tehachapi, California
Warm Flowers - Tehachapi, California
Fly On The Wall - Tehachapi, California



How To Improve Your Photography In 5 Steps

I get asked sometimes how one goes about improving their photography. Should they sign up for classes? Read some books? While it is worthwhile to get some structured instruction through college and the local library, there are, however, some things you could do right now to improve your images.

1 - Don't Worry About Equipment

Your camera doesn't matter. You don't need expensive equipment or to spend a lot of money. Money doesn't make great photographs, great photographers do. Many people think that if they just buy this camera or that lens their photographs will improve. The reality is if your photographs are not good now, they will not be good with that new equipment, either.

You cannot improve your photography without understanding this point. A great pianist can play an amazing piece on any piano, not just a grand piano. A great painter can make a masterpiece on cheap canvas and with second-rate brushes. It's the artist that matters, not the tools that the artist uses. It's the end that matters and not the means.

You should focus your time and attention to understanding what makes a great photograph great. Stop reading endless product reviews and comments about equipment on message boards by strangers. Don't waste your time with something that won't matter one bit in the long run.

You can improve your photographs with the equipment you already own. Once you've mastered the making of photographs, then you can think about equipment and how this or that can ever-so-slightly improve or make easier what you are doing. Until then, don't worry about it at all.

"The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it." --Ansel Adams 

2 - Take A Lot Of Photographs

You should be using your camera every day. The more images you can capture the better.


Don't just take pictures, that's not enough. Experiment, try things, be creative, use your imagination. Take lots of notes (even if just mental notes) of what worked and what didn't, what you liked and what you didn't like.

Don't worry about making mistakes. If something didn't work out, there is a lesson in that. If something did work, there is a lesson in that, too. Could you have done something--anything--that would have improved the photograph? A different angle? Closer? Further? Different aperture? Different shutter speed? Different white balance? Different composition? Different time-of-day?

Each photograph you create offers something of value if only you'd take the time to figure out what it is. Be your own critic and watch just how quickly your images improve.

"Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst." --Henri Cartier-Bresson

3 - Find Great Light

Photography is painting with light. Without light there is no photograph. Without great light there is no great photograph.

Great light can be found any time of the day or night, but you have to actively search it out. It may not be completely obvious. You may see some light a thousand times before you realize that it is indeed great.

The most obvious great light is near sunrise and sunset. A quick way to improve your photography is to be out with your camera when the sun is low to the horizon.

Sometimes great light just doesn't exist, so you have to create your own. Sometime you need to add light, sometimes you have to take some light away. Don't be afraid to use fill-flash (or more elaborate lighting equipment) or create shade (once in a while your own shadow will be enough).

Also consider the interplay of light and shadow and how they work together in an image. This interplay can be more important than the subject itself--in fact, it can very effectively be the subject.

"The moment you take the leap of understanding to realize you are not photographing a subject but are photographing light is when you have control over the medium." --Daryl Benson

4 - Speak Strongly

Photography is a form of non-verbal communication. Each image says something. What do your photographs say?

You speak the strongest when your conversation is something you are passionate about. Your words will not excite anyone if you are talking about something you have no interest in. So talk about whatever it is that you truly love!

What do you find interesting? What are your hobbies? What do you know more about than most people? What are you passionate about? Whatever your interests are is what you should be photographing. When you non-verbally talk about those things through your photographs, that is when you will create your strongest work.

It's important to understand that communication isn't a one-way street. For communication to be complete, it not only has to be transmitted, but it also has to be received. You have to consider how viewers will interpret your photographs. What the viewer actually deciphers from your image is more important than what you intended for them to decipher.

The key is to keep your communication easy to understand. Simple photographs are often better than complex photographs. Remove any and all unnecessary "words" from your images so there is no confusion. Make your message obvious.

"There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer." --Ansel Adams

5 - Have Vision

Vision is seeing in your mind what you want your photograph to be even before the shutter has been opened. Vision is making an idea a reality.

This is where you use your imagination. This is where you are creative. This is where your photography is indeed art.

When you have vision, you have your own style that is unique to you. You cannot reach this step without completing the first four. One day it will just hit you. You will know exactly what you want to photograph, exactly how you will capture it, exactly what it will look like, and then you'll make it happen.

Even if you have yet to master steps one through four, you can still begin to consider what your vision might be and how you can get there. Before opening the shutter, try to think of the final image--what you want it to look like and how you can create that.

Push your creative self more and more. Try to see possibilities instead of difficulties, opportunities instead of opposition. The only thing holding you back from creating what you want is yourself.

"Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary."   --Cecil Beaton


Conclusion

Once steps one through five are complete, the cycle repeats itself. You will need to remind yourself that it is never about the equipment, it's about the final print. Images 10,001 through 20,000 are your second worst, so you will need to continue making many photographs. You will have to push yourself to find great light where you never thought it existed before. You will continue to refine the communication through your photographs to make them even stronger. And you will have to continuously review your vision to ensure you are relevant.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Deal: 16" x 20" Prints Only $5 At Adorama

From now until the end of April, 16" x 20" prints are only $5 at Adorama. 16" x 20" metallic prints are only $7.

That's a pretty good deal!

If you need some large prints, now is a good time.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Thought Of The Day: Nikon D3200, etc.

I hate writing about equipment. What camera you do or don't own makes very little difference to the outcome of your images. People spend way too much time and money on equipment and not nearly enough time and money learning how to create great photographs. Your equipment is simply a means (and one of many "means") to an end and is in no way an end unto itself.

But since about 95% of the traffic that comes to this Blog is looking for information on equipment (compared to about 1% that come here looking for ways to improve their photography), I continue to discuss equipment. I guess everyone knows how to take great photographs, if only they had this camera or that camera....

One camera that I'm excited about is the Nikon D3200 DSLR. It has 24 megapixels on an APS-C sized sensor. This sensor is actually the same sensor found in the Sony NEX-7.

The NEX-7, in case you live under a rock, is one of the most in-demand cameras on the market. Because of the high demand and a lack of supply, you'll have to pay well above the $1,350 MSRP to secure one. Last I checked, you'll have to hand over around $1,800 to get one with a kit lens. Once supply catches up to demand, the price will come down.

The D3200 with a kit lens has an MSRP of $700, about half of the NEX-7's suggested retail price. Yes, the NEX-7 has some features the D3200 doesn't, but not enough to justify the significant cost difference.

Two quick points about Nikon vs. Sony: Nikon has better built-in software and Nikon has better lenses.

Nikon's Expeed 3 software is one of the best (if not the best) in-camera software out there. The differences between it and Sony's software are not significant at low ISO, but there is a large difference at high ISO. Nikon will get the absolute most out of the camera's sensor, even more than Sony can.

Nikon has a large selection of high quality lenses, while Sony has a small selection of ho-hum lenses. With the same sensor, you can get sharper images with Nikon. Don't overlook this point.

At low ISO, the D3200's image quality will match up very closely to Canon's $3,500 5D Mark III. It wouldn't surprise me if the D3200 actually exceeds it slightly. The 5D Mark III will outperform the D3200 at high ISO. If you don't do a lot of low-light photography (and most photographers don't do a lot of low-light photography... at least not without a tripod or lighting equipment), you'll be able to get the same image quality but for 1/5th the cost.

If I'm in the market for a new digital camera and I don't want to spend $3,000 for the Nikon D800 (which might be the best digital camera ever made), I'd seriously consider the D3200.

Heck, my Samsung NX200, a great camera that I purchased not very long ago, might soon be a "back-up" camera. And perhaps it's time to retire my two-year-old Pentax K-x....


Sunday, April 22, 2012

Just Got Back From Arizona

Got back late last night (actually, early this morning) from a quick weekend trip to Phoenix, Arizona. It wasn't a photography trip, but I did manage to sneak off a few times specifically to photograph. The Sonoran Desert is beautiful in the spring time, and I didn't want to miss it. It's already getting really hot, though, with daytime temperatures above 100 degrees.

I captured 353 images over three days. As soon as I'm done post-processing them, I'll be sure to share them on this Blog.

Before I left I made a quick comment about the up-coming Nikon D3200, which will most likely be the best budget DSLR available. I said that the MSRP will be $700 for the body only, which is incorrect. For $700, you will also get a kit 18-55mm lens!

It will be interesting to find out just how good the sensor is in the D3200. If it performs as some are expecting, it might just outperform all other digital cameras with APS-C sized sensors and get pretty darn close to the new full-frame Canon 5D Mark III.

We will have to wait and see. But if you can get very similar quality for 1/5th the cost, why would you choose the much more expensive camera? It will also be interesting to see how Canon responds.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Phoneography, Part 8: Leave Your Camera At Home

Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.

Well, I didn't leave my Samsung NX200 at home, but I did something just as stupid--I left my SD card in the laptop at home. Oops!
Tehachapi Mountain Sunset - Stallion Springs, California
But no big deal. I had a different Samsung camera in my pocket: the Galaxy S. Yes, my cell phone! In fact, I'm glad that is the camera I had. Don't get me wrong, I love the NX200. But sometimes working with other equipment forces you to think differently and perhaps more creatively.
Sunset Oaks - Stallion Springs, California
I wasn't expecting such a beautiful sunset, because great sunrises and sunsets don't happen everyday. But two days ago, there I was, at the western edge of the Tehachapi Mountains at sunset, witnessing something great. And I used my cell phone to capture it.
At The Edge Of Tomorrow - Stallion Springs, California
If you accidentally left your camera at home (or your SD card), no big deal--use the camera you have with you. It's more than a capable photographic tool. The photographs here could be made into 8" x 10" prints.
Down The Canyon To The Valley - Stallion Springs, California
You see, the equipment you used to capture your images is not important. What's important is the final image--what you were able to create.
California Sunset - Stallion Springs, California
On another note, an easy app for post-processing phoneographs is Instagram (available for Apple and Droid). I prefer Pixlr-O-Matic and Photo Editor, but this is another good option to consider.
Tehachapi Mountains After Sunset - Stallion Springs, California

News: Nikon D3200

Nikon just rocked the photography world with the D800, which is arguably the best digital camera ever made. With an MSRP of $3,000 (body only), it's well within the reach of the masses.

Now Nikon announces the D3200, a 24 megapixel DSLR with an APS-C sized sensor. With an MSRP of only $700 (body only), it will be hard to pass up this camera.

I expect that when DxOMark publishes the results of their tests, and when reviewers post side-by-side comparisons of 100% crops, that this camera will come pretty darn close to the Canon 5D Mark III in image quality. If so, that would be a big blow to Canon.

If you are in the market for a DSLR and don't want to fork over $3,000 for the D800, I'd wait for the D3200.

Of course, cameras don't make photographs, photographers do. Neither Nikon camera will improve your photography. Equipment is not nearly as important as some would have you believe.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Photographs From The Past Few Days

I haven't done a lot of photography over the last few days. However, I do attempt to have a camera with me everywhere I go and I try to find something to photograph.

All of these were captured with a Samsung NX200 while going about everyday life. I kept an eye out for anything interesting.You never know when inspiration will find you.

The photograph directly below, for example, was taken at a yummy restaurant near Lake Isabella, California, called Los Palomo's. My two-year-old son grabbed a painted rock that was a decoration and started spinning it on the table. I wanted to scold him, but reached for my camera instead. The image you see was the first of seven attempts. I "corrected" the white balance in the other six photographs, but decided I liked this one better. I used ISO 1600 and cropped 4/5ths of the image out.
Spinning Painted Rock - Bodfish, California


Broken Bike - Bodfish, California
The above photograph was captured about 10-12 minutes after sundown using ISO 3200. Brake lights from a vehicle and an outside lamp provided some additional lighting. The graininess and soft-focus add to the drama of the photograph.
Fly On Green - Tehachapi, California
Flies are hard to capture without a long telephoto lens, because they quickly fly away as soon as you get close to them. I didn't have a long telephoto lens to capture the above image, so I "zoomed" by cropping. I cut about 7/8ths of the image out to create the above photograph.
Closed Poppy - Tehachapi, California
Back Lit Flowers - Tehachapi, California
The two photographs above were found in my yard. Sometimes you don't have to go far to find something interesting to capture.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Thought Of The Day: Refocus

My wife suggested that I refocus my photography. When she gives me feedback, she's usually spot-on. She said my photographs are all over the place. She likes them and thinks they're great, but she has a hard time picking up on direction.

Direction is important in photography. If you don't know where you are going you'll never reach where it is you want to go.

Photography is non-verbal communication. Your images must say something to be successful. Your photographs are even stronger if they communicate something together. You could equate each photograph to a paragraph of words. Does each paragraph build on the last? Together do they make a novel? Or is it a bunch of jumbled nonsense?

Having direction means having vision. It's knowing what images I want to create and figuring out how to accomplish that. It's a refining process, figuring out how to better do what I've been doing.

I have to be more selective and more purposeful with my photographs.

Refocus. Direction. Vision. Refine. Those are buzzwords, but it's exactly what I need to think about.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Roesch Photography



This is my first attempt to showcase some of my photography on YouTube. The music is by a friend of mine--his band is called This Side Of Heaven.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Disneyland, Part 2

Part 1

Day 3: Saturday, March 24

This was a busy day, trying to squeeze everything in that we didn't accomplish on the first two days. We still didn't experience everything we wanted to (I guess that means another trip to Disneyland in the coming months...). Most of the day was spent in Disneyland, but we did go to California Adventure for a couple hours.
Clydesdale - Disneyland, California
Semaphore Signal And Station - Disneyland, California
Red Lamp - Disneyland, California
African Daisy - Disneyland, California
Daisy - Disneyland, California
Pink Flower - Disneyland, California
Yellow Daisy - Disneyland, California
Purple Flower - Disneyland, California
Blossom Beginning - Disneyland, California
Castle Wall - Disneyland, California
Carousel Horse With Girl - Disneyland, California
Monorail Behind Trees - Disneyland, California
This was the view from the hotel room balcony.
Girl, Waiting - Disneyland, California
Red Daisies - Disneyland, California
Red And Yellow Daisy - Disneyland, California
Castle - Disneyland, California
White Rose - Disneyland, California
Blossoming Rose - Disneyland, California
Two Ducks, Red Rose - Disneyland, California
That's it! Most of the photographs were family photographs and were not shared here. It was a very fun three days, but a bit overwhelming, too. Hopefully next time will be more relaxed.

Thought Of The Day: Samsung NX200 Criticism

Samsung's NX200 compact interchangeable-lens digital camera has caused much division. It seems like you either love it or you hate it.

The NX200 is a relatively small, lightweight and inexpensive camera with a lot of resolution--20 megapixels on an APS-C sized sensor! At low ISO, it's really tough to beat the image quality from this camera. In fact, for the $900 MSRP, you simply cannot beat the image quality. If you double that price you will find cameras with similar image quality and if you triple that price you will find cameras that beat it (but not by much, really). You can read my full review by clicking here.

The NX200 is not a perfect camera (no camera is, not even the Nikon D800, which might be the best digital camera ever made). It's in that imperfection that we find the division. So let's take a closer look.

The biggest criticism is that Samsung left off an electronic viewfinder. Some people absolutely must compose their images while looking through a tiny viewfinder. And that is OK, since that is what they are used to. Since the NX200 doesn't have a viewfinder, those who must have one will never like this camera.

Samsung did, however, include a great 3" screen on the back of the camera, perfectly capable of composing images on.

Viewfinders make no difference to image quality (which is what is truly important, right?), so as long as you are able to compose your images somehow, that is good enough. Or, at least, it should be. I think some have made a mountain out of a molehill by being completely inflexible. What difference does it make on what type of screen images are composed?

Some will hate the NX200 always and forever because of this. I find it to be a non-issue.

Another big complaint about the NX200 is that digital noise (the equivalent of film grain) is average to below-average at high ISO. 95% of photographs by 95% of photographers are captured at fairly low ISOs, so performance at high ISO is not nearly as important as low ISO performance. Low ISO performance on the NX200 is outstanding.

The photographers that need good high ISO performance are those that do a lot of low-light photography. Those photographers should consider full-frame DSLRs or an APS-C sized sensor camera with fewer megapixels. No one should expect 20 megapixels on an APS-C sensor to be good at high ISO. But since most photographers don't do a lot of low-light photography, it's not a big deal.

If you need to do some low-light photography with the NX200 (and we'll assume that you cannot add light to the scene), one solution is to save your images in RAW format instead of JPEG. Fiddle around with the images in post-processing and you can get good looking photographs at high ISO, but it will take more time (and time is important).

One other complaint is that the camera saves RAW slowly. This is only a big deal if you are capturing images in rapid succession (for example, if you are a sports photographer).

I'm a big proponent of JPEG and I believe RAW is rarely necessary. With JPEG, the trick is to get all the settings the way you want them before opening the shutter. A few seconds of care in the field can save you several minutes of farting around in front of a computer later (again, time is important). If you save as JPEGs, then it doesn't matter how slow RAW save times are. If you save as RAW, it will matter to you only if you are trying to quickly capture a lot of images.

Some have complained about JPEG quality vs. RAW quality from the NX200, saying that JPEG quality isn't all that good. This is true only at high ISO, which, if you save in RAW and fiddle on a computer, you can get sharper images with less digital noise and a larger dynamic range. At low ISO, it's simply not the case--there is very little to no improvements that can be gained by saving in RAW instead of JPEG. At ISO 800 and 1600, you will have to decide for yourself if the minimal improvements from saving in RAW are worth the extra time and effort it takes to post-process RAW.

I believe this complaint is more user-error than anything else. With JPEG, you have to make sure all of the settings are the way you want them. Read the user's manual and be sure that everything is indeed as you want it.

Now that we are through with that, now onto the good.

At low ISO (which most photographs by most photographers are captured at low ISO), the image quality is exceptional for an APS-C sized sensor camera. The NX200 surpassed almost all APS-C sized sensor cameras and gets right up there with full-frame digital cameras. If you photographed exclusively at ISOs 100, 200 and 400, no one would ever be able to tell that you didn't use a full-frame DSLR.

Samsung has made nine quality lenses for their NX cameras, which is more than most other compact interchangeable-lens camera manufacturers have made available for their cameras. And the Samsung lenses are well above average--in fact, they are quite good (which is more than you can say about Sony's ho-hum lenses).

The NX200 has a great user interface, which makes the camera a blast to use. Any and all adjustments are quick to find and easy to make. No searching through seemingly endless menus to change some setting!

Last but certainly not least is the price. The NX200 with a lens has an MSRP of $900, but if you shop around, you can find it for as little as $750. That's a very small price to pay for a camera that delivers so much.

In conclusion, for the price, you cannot find a better digital camera than the Samsung NX200. If you pay double the price of the NX200, you can get a camera that produces image quality that is similar to it. If you pay triple the price of the NX200, you can get a camera that produces image quality that is similar at low ISO but better at high ISO. As you can see, the NX200 is a great value!

Is the NX200 perfect? Of course not. But it is a darn good camera.

Friday, April 13, 2012

How To Make Your Own Neutral Density Filter

Let's make a neutral density filter! This is an easy and cheap do-it-yourself project that will allow you to take long exposures in daylight.

Typically, neutral density filters reduce the exposure by one to three f-stops (ND2, ND4 and ND8, respectively), but can reduce the exposure by as many as 13 f-stops (ND8192). Neutral density filters are not cheap, especially the darker ones that reduce the exposure by eight f-stops or more. Some cost several hundred dollars.

Why would you want to use a neutral density filter? To reduce the light entering the lens so that you can use a longer exposure. You can blur motion in daylight.

The neutral density filter that I'm demonstrating here will reduce the exposure by 10 to 15 f-stops. The main ingredient is welding glass, which comes in 16 different shades. The one I used is a #10, which reduces the exposure by about 13 f-stops.

Welding glass isn't expensive, typically ranging from $3 to $25. If you know a welder you might be able to get some welding glass for free simply by asking--that is what I did.

Step 1
You will need welding glass, a UV filter (which, if you don't have one already, can be found for just a few dollars), some electrical tape, and scissors. Make sure the welding glass and UV lens are clean.

Step 2
Secure the UV filter to the welding glass using small pieces of electrical tape. You want to use electrical tape to prevent light-leaks (unless you want light-leaks). Make sure the threaded side of the UV filter is up and take care that the tape doesn't cover the threads.

Step 3
Screw the filter onto the lens. In the photograph above the home-made neutral density filter is attached to the lens on my Samsung NX200.

Using It
Snowing - Tehachapi, California
In the above photograph, a neutral density filter was NOT used, and you can clearly see the falling snow. If I did not wish for the falling snow to be visible, I could have used the home-made neutral density filter. With a long exposure, the falling snow would look like a barely visible light fog.
Winter Train Streak - Tehachapi, California
Shutter 35 seconds, f9, ISO 200, Samsung NX200, 40mm, ND filter
I used the home-made neutral density filter to capture the above photograph. Without the neutral density filter, the train would have appeared stationary and the falling snow would have looked like the image above this one.

You will want to mount the camera on a tripod because you will be dealing with long exposures. It will be tough to focus the lens after you screw on the home-made neutral density filter, so you will want to do that before hand. It's helpful to use manual focus instead of auto focus.

While your camera might be able to figure out the exposure in auto mode, it is better to use manual mode and do it yourself. I metered the scene using the camera's meter before placing the filter on the lens and subtracted 13 stops from the shutter speed. You might find a hand-held light meter useful.

Another issue is white balance. The tint color will be different depending on what welding glass you use. Take a few test shots to figure out what the white balance should be, or save the image in RAW format and figure out the white balance later in post-processing. If the photograph will be black-and-white then white balance doesn't matter.
Rock And River - Kernville, California
I used a store bought 2-stop neutral density filter to capture the above photograph. With the home-made neutral density filter, the water would look more like mist or fog than water.