The Digital Photo Guy

Monday Morning Tip – 6/15/09

by on Jun.14, 2009, under Monday Morning Tips

(Added Photoshoot info at the bottom)

Monday Morning Tip

OK, I know you’re probably sick and tired of ACR (Adobe Camera Raw) so this is the last one for a while. We’ve really only begun to scratch the surface but there’s a limit to how much time I can spend playing with and writing about ACR and I’m sure there’s a limit to how much you want to read.

Today, we cover the Histogram in ACR and, in passing, mention the Exif data and RGB values below the Histogram. BTW, per Japan Electronic Industry Development Association (JEIDA), the keeper of Exif standards, the proper terminology is Exif with a capital “E” and the rest in lower case and it is an ancronym for Exchangeable image file format.

As always, the full MMT is in the Tips & News section and requires a password that is e-mailed to you upon registeration. Registration is simply a means of preserving the value of the MMTs for readers. Without registration, there would bots slurping down all the MMTs and who knows where they would end up.

Quick Tip

When using an external flash, did you know that there is a modeling light feature? A modeling light puts out a low power, pulsed light so you see what the scene will look like when the flash fires. It’s great for detecting where the light and shadow will fall. In the old days, photographers often used Polaroids to get a sense of the lighting and pose but a modeling light is more convenient. Like a Polaroid, it won’t give you a completely accurate view of the final image but it gets you in the ballpark.

To activate the Canon modeling light, press the Depth of Field Preview button on your Canon camera. On current Nikon flashes, only the SB800 and SB900 have modeling lights. They are triggered by a separate Modeling Light button on the back of the flashhead. Check your manual for specific details.

A cool use for modeling lights on strobes is Light Painting. By pressing and holding the button, the flash can be moved around an object to “paint” it with light. This handy when you want a photo of a small object with absolutely no shadows. With Canon flashes, I use the High Speed Sync function to do the same thing but it’s a bit more effort to set up. You can do the same with a Nikon but the modeling light is quicker to set up.


On Sunday, June 21 (yeah, I know it’s Father’s Day), I’ll be at the Torrey Pines Glider Port with the San Diego Photography Meetup Group. The group is meeting at 10AM but I’ll be there in my RV by about 8AM. If there’s nothing happening that early, you can have a fresh cup of coffee from my RV. I’ve lived in San Diego for nearly half my life and have never been there so it’s about time. You don’t have to join the Group, just show up.

If you’re using Canon, you’re welcome to try my 300/2.8 or 100-400 to see if a long lens is in your future.

Comments Off on Monday Morning Tip – 6/15/09 :, , , , , more...

Focal Plane Shutter and High Speed Sync

by on Jun.09, 2009, under Articles

There seems to be some confusion about the definition of a focal plane shutter so, hopefully, this will shed some light on the subject (pun definitely intended). A shutter is simply the camera mechanism that controls the length of time the medium (film or sensor) is exposed to light. A focal plane shutter is a design that places the shutter directly in front of the medium. This is the predominant shutter design in modern digital SLRs.

There are several variations of FP shutter designs but almost all incorporate 2 curtains to block the medium. The photo below shows a modern FP shutter in a Casio P&S circa 1999. As the shutter is released, the metal blades fall down, exposing the sensor. At the precise moment, a second set of blades falls down to block the sensor. At faster shutter speeds, the second set of blades (curtain) closely trails the first such that, in effect, a slit of light moves across the sensor.
Modern Metal Vertical Focal Plane Shutter

Modern Metal Vertical Focal Plane Shutter

This helps explain why digital SLRs have a maximum flash sync speed of about 1/250 second or less. At faster shutter speeds, the blades block off the sensor before the flash is able to fully expose the sensor. In other words, the first curtain opens, fully exposing the sensor. Just before the second curtain descends, the flash must fire while the entire sensor is exposed. Otherwise, a portion of the sensor is covered and produces a dark band across the image.

Older SLRs typically had horizontal curtains made of a rubberized fabric that moved from side to side but the concept was the same. The first curtain moved out of the way to expose the film and, after a predetermined time, the second curtain blocked the film.

Why is all this important today? Most modern flash units have a mode called High Speed Sync (FP Flash) that allows shutter speeds faster than the camera’s top sync speed of 1/125 to 1/250. It works by pulsing the flash to emit a series of flashes as the small slit travels across the sensor. Less expensive flashes like the Canon 420EX have a set pulse rate while more expensive units like the 580EX can be set to specific pulse rates.

When is this important? In a “typical” flash situation where the entire scene is dark, a slower shutter speed is fine. In fact, it is often desired because the shutter needs to stay open longer to capture the background ambient light. What if you want to take an outdoor portrait using a shallow depth of field. Setting your aperture to f/2.8 and ISO to 100, your shutter speed jumps up to 1/2000 second, way too fast for the flash. You could stop down the aperture to f/11 but that increases your DoF and you lose that nice creamy bokeh in the background. This is where FP Flash comes in handy. Set your flash to High Speed Sync (FP Flash) and blast away at 1/2000 second.
Comments Off on Focal Plane Shutter and High Speed Sync :, , more...

Monday Morning Tip – 6/8/09

by on Jun.07, 2009, under Monday Morning Tips

Today’s MMT starts to delve into the real “meat” of ACR. We start with brief overviews of the 5 Basic panels on the right side of the ACR interface. Here, we can tweak and enhance most digital photos that are reasonably good to start. In other words, the exposure just needs a little adjustment, color temperature is pretty close and sharpness is good. If the photo is a train wreck to start with, there’s not much that can be done in any program. Bottom line, ACR can turn good photos into great photos but lousy photos are forever lousy with a single exception. Very bad photos are often good examples of bad examples.

As always, go to the Tips and New section and click on Monday Morning Tips. Register for this site to have a password e-mailed to you. Remember to set up an RSS feed so you don’t need to wait for my e-mails to know when the site has been updated.

Quick Tips

If you have an old flash lying around from your film SLR days, resist the temptation to mount it on your new digital SLR. Most older film SLRs used a mechanical switch to trigger the flash so they could withstand trigger voltages up to the hundreds of volts. The new dSLRs are almost all restricted to trigger voltages below about 12v max. It doesn’ t take rocket science to figure out what can happen if your blast 250v through a circuit designed for 6v. When I was a young engineer, we used to call this a “smoke test”. To avoid smoke testing your dSLR, you can check the voltage with a digital volmeter or look for your flash on this site.

So, if your old flash is incompatible with your dSLR, what are the options? Wein to the rescue! Wein has been producing several products for many years to help in just this sort of situation. The first is Wein SafeSync, a device that reduces the trigger voltage to a safe 6v. This device mounts to your camera’s hot shoe and has a hot shoe on top for your flash. All it does is intercept the high voltage trigger and reduces it to about 6v. You can continue to use that old flash with your new cameras. The SafeSync goes for about US$50.

An even better solution is a Wein Peanut Slave, a US$20 device that turns your old flash into a slave flash triggered by the light from your main flash. Be aware that your old flash needs a PC sync socket for the Wein to plug into. A PC sync socket was a common connector on most older 35mm SLRs and most older flashes had one.

Using either a dedicated flash on your camera or the little integrated, pop-up flash, a slave flash fires when it detects the main flash has fired. As many of you have discovered, the little pop-up flash leaves a lot to be desired but by adding a second, slave flash, interesting effects can be added to your flash photography. For example, if you want a more interesting background than the standard Navajo White most houses are painted, you can cover the slave with a piece of colored plastic, aim it at the background and, “Voila!”, instant colored BG.

Of course, if you think this is too much trouble or not your cup of tea, send that old flash to me. 😉 I’m sure I can figure out a use for it. In fact, I’ve been thinking of a 6 flash project for capturing hummingbirds.


Our remodel is almost done. Anyone who has ever lived through a remodel knows that it’s a bit like waterboarding. You feel as if you’re drowning in a sea of contractors, appliances, materials and, most of all, dust. There’s dust everywhere including your toothpaste and ice cubes. We were dumb enough to remodel both our home in Escondido as well as a new place we bought in Arizona at the same time. I’ve been driving back and forth to Wickenburg, AZ to check on that house so the RV has been racking up the miles.

We’ve decided to rent the place in AZ to friends and family as a short-term vacation rental so if anyone wants to check out the Southwest for 1-3 months, let me know. The house has 4 bedrooms/2 baths in 1900 square feet on 2/3 acre on top of a hill. It also has partial RV hookups (no dump connection) so someone with an RV who wants to explore the southwest will find it perfect. Wickenburg is a day’s drive from most southwest destinations including national parks, wildlife refuges, Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Tucson and parts of New Mexico.

Anyway, I’m hoping to get back to some serious shooting as soon as all this is done. My first plans are acorn woodpeckers at Live Oak Park in Fallbrook. I’ve been meaning to get up there for months now but just haven’t had time. If anyone is interested in joining me, shoot me an e-mail. I’m also hoping to get out to Oceanside Pier for some surfing action. Let me know if that interests you.

Comments Off on Monday Morning Tip – 6/8/09 :, , , , more...

San Diego Fair Accepted Entries List Posted

by on Jun.04, 2009, under Photos

Once again, only half of my entries were accepted at the 2009 San Diego Fair and both were in the same category, Architecture and Cityscape. I thought for sure my two other entries in the People category would be accepted. I guess I need to practice more on people.
Accepted 2009 San Diego Fair juried competition

Accepted 2009 San Diego Fair juried competition

Accepted 2009 San Diego Fair juried competition

Accepted 2009 San Diego Fair juried competition

Not Accepted 2009 San Diego Fair juried competition

Not Accepted 2009 San Diego Fair juried competition

Not Accepted 2009 San Diego Fair juried competition

Not Accepted 2009 San Diego Fair juried competition


The interesting thing is that I printed both accepted photos on my Epson R1800 while both unaccepted photos were printed at a local “big box” store where I thought they did a better job with the skin tones. I wish I could ask the judges if the print quality had anything to do with their decisions. Next year, I plan to print all my entries in my office.

If you get a chance, stop by the fair which opens Friday, June 12 at the Del Mar Fairgrounds in Del Mar, CA.

Comments Off on San Diego Fair Accepted Entries List Posted :, more...

Monday Morning Tip – 6/1/09

by on Jun.01, 2009, under Monday Morning Tips

As promised, today’s MMT is a continuation of Adobe Camera Raw. I figure I can milk ACR for 3-4 more MMTs. Today, we’ll cover cropping in ACR. I’ll bet most of you never thought I could write a full MMT on cropping but it’s true. There’s more to cropping than mindlessly drawing a box around a subject and cutting off the extraneous stuff. We don’t have time to get into the aesthetics of cropping but we discuss the many ways the Crop Tool can be applied in ACR.

As always, the full MMT can be found HERE, on the Tips & News page. If you don’t have a password to get into the MMT area, register for this site and one will be e-mailed to you.

Quick Tips

When creating panoramas, be sure your camera is in Manual mode to prevent the exposure from changing from frame to frame. It will look really odd to have one frame lighter or darker than the ones next to it. Sure, it can be fixed in Photoshop but the goal is to always get as good an image as possible straight out of the camera.

A good thing to have when shooting panos is a bubble level so your camera is perfectly level. If it’s not level, it will be much more difficult to “stitch” the frames together. Again, it can be fixed in Photoshop but it’s always a lot easier to get it right “SOOC” (straight out of camera). Bubble levels are the easiest to use and there are many tripods that have them built into the tripod base but a cheap $0.99 level from Home Depot set atop your hot shoe can be just as effective. Just be sure it sits flat on the hot shoe rails.

Finally, I’m sure everyone knows this but, be sure to overlap each frame by, at least, 20% or more. Any less and the pano software will not be able to “guessimate” how the edges should be stitched. This will result in clearly visible “joints”.

More Flash Fun

If you’ve ever been fascinated by photographs of drops of water falling, hitting, splashing and otherwise creating those cool geometric patterns, go to David Hobby’s Strobist site. He has a great tutorial on making such photos. The photos in the slideshow were created by readers over the past week.

If you don’t have an external flash, you can buy a cheap SunPak Auto 144 PC Thyrister flash on  eBay(~US$20) with a Wein Peanut Slave (US$19.95) from B&H Photo Video. Just be sure the flash has a PC connector where the Wein Peanut can plug in. The best “cheap” flash is the LumoPro 120 from MidWest Photo Exchange. It’s still US$129.95 but that beats US$400-500 for a Canon or Nikon flash.

Palomar College classes

OK, now I’m begging and groveling. Tell your friends and family to register for classes at Palomar College. Registrations are way off and the school may have to drop all non-credit, community development classes unless we can fill them. Remember, my classes (except “Hands-On Photoshoots) are conducted via webcast so you don’t even have to be in San Diego County. Go HERE for more info.

It seems the classes that fill during an economic downturn are those that promise to teach you how to make money. I’ve been asked to think of ways students can use their cameras to make money but I keep coming back to my basic philosophy, “To make a small fortune in photography, start with a large fortune.” That said, is there any interest out there for a class on the business of photography? If I develop a class about building a photography business, would anyone attend?

Comments Off on Monday Morning Tip – 6/1/09 : more...

Looking for something?

Use the form below to search the site:

Still not finding what you're looking for? Drop a comment on a post or contact us so we can take care of it!