This blog is my attempt to keep track of some of the things I learn along the way, with my Canon 7D, G12 and accessories. All images copyright Brad Calkins, not to be used without permission (or purchase). I do not attempt to monetize my blog, other than to promote my stock photo portfolio on Dreamstime.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Manual versus not

My mother is taking a course on photography and she was commenting on how her teacher was touting the advantages of shooting in manual. While I am no stranger to manual I really think this argument is directed to people who set the camera to program and then don't notice what settings the camera picks. This is a crucial point - there is not an iota of difference between the camera picking 1/125s - f/4 and you setting the same in manual. The only difference is that you saved yourself the time and trouble, and maybe got a shot you wouldn't have had time to get.


"Sure," you say, " but what about when the meter is wrong?". Good question! You simply change the exposure compenstation dial to correct a stop or two. With digital you have a histogram on the back plus the image itself so instant feedback helps you quickly get to the right exposure whether in manual or auto exposure. I have the following comments on the several Canon Auto Modes:

1. Program. While I have nothing against program mode, it will pick both shutter and aperture for you. While the shutter speed doesn't really matter as long as it will stop motion (if that is what you want) the aperture does play a big part in the final picture. Since you don't really have control over either I never use program mode (see below). I do realize that you can quickly adjust with the command dials to get the shutter/aperture you are after but I hate having to wheel in a good aperture every time I take a shot.
2. TV. Time value. This is the shutter priority mode. You set the speed, the camera picks the aperture. I always use this mode for long exposures (blurred water, motion blur, etc.) since time is the key variable you want to control. Otherwise I stick to AV.
3. AV. Aperture value. This is my preferred mode. I set an aperture I want for depth of field, or perhaps for optimum sharpness or also just to get the fastest shutter speed (wide open). In all three cases I have lots of options to meter. I can use the spot meter and lock the exposure with the '*' button. I can dial in exposure compensation 'knowing' I will need it, etc. Finally, I am just a click away from the manual mode if I really need to lock down the exposure. What I like about using this mode, is that when light conditions are changing the camera still takes that into account. With manual there is the danger that you don't notice when the light drops half a stop or more.
4. Manual. Unless light on my subject is constant or I need more than 2 stops exposure correction I usually stay out of manual mode outdoors. There are some very handy times to use it though - like when doing a panoramic with multiple shots. In that case you'll want to lock the exposure in so that it is consistent from shot to shot. Another is when using flash. I hate the way Canon locks the shutter to 1/250s for flash shots in AV mode (or lets the ambient dictate both shutter and aperture). I prefer to switch to manual so I have independent control of the ambient (via the manual exposure / shutter speed) and the flash exposure (via the aperture). I can also keep my ambient sharp by keeping the shutter at a speed I can hold. I may not get full exposure on the background, but I hate what program mode lets my shutter drop really low and I pick up blur from parts of the photo when I don't expect it. Oh - and for another case where manual is good: when you have constant light but your subject's brightness changes a lot. Think bride and groom standing in the shade. Black. White. Black. White. Both. No meter can figure that out!

I've tried operating in manual outdoors and here is what I found:

1. I lose a shot or two. I almost always forget to set the camera first and miss my first shot. I'm sure I would get over this after a while.
2. Some people seem to think that you aren't really taking pictures until you spend a few minutes working out the 'sunny f/16' rule, etc. on each shoot. I prefer to get an 'auto' exposure shot as my first picture and then work from there. If it turns out well I'm done!
3. Light changes. The camera is a lot more sensitive to light than we are and keeps adjusting to suit. Either you shoot on manual and are constantly checking the display or you run the risk of lighting changing.
4. My kids don't stand still! If you have every tried to follow your kids in and out of the shade and sun on a hot summer day I can't believe you still prefer manual.
5. Why guess? My camera has a meter that works very nicely. Why would I spend a lot of time trying to get myself so in tune with the light that I can manually set what the meter would pick? I doubt I'll ever get to 1/2 stop accuracy...
6. I bored of this a long time ago with my old AE-1 and non-auto lenses. I paid my dues - let me use my digital camera's sophisticated meter!!!

Please be aware that some of these comments are tongue in cheek. I don't wish to tell anyone else how to use their camera. If you shoot in manual all the time and get great shots - wonderful! I don't find that it works well for me. If you have some advice that will change my outlook on manual forever then please comment away. Note that the Pentax K10D (and 20D I assume) has a cool feature where in manual mode you can simply hit the green button and it grabs the metered exposure and resets the aperture and shutter to match. You are ready to run with that or adjust away. If Canon had something like that, I think I could finally make the move to manual.

Anyways, if this helps someone who feels they must use manual to get the 'real' photo taking experience feel like they aren't cheating shooting in aperture priority then my mission is accomplished! Progam isn't just for amateurs - it is for people who want to use the built in meter. Just don't get me started on the really automatic Green mode ;)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Stock Photography

I've been selling photos on Dreamtime for a while now, and while I'm not in any danger of quitting my day job, it is starting to provide some income for photo gear. Here are a few recent shots that I thought turned out quite well:

© Photographer: Bradcalkins | Agency:

© Photographer: Bradcalkins | Agency:

Leaf texture
© Photographer: Bradcalkins | Agency:

I also picked up a Lumiquest Softbox III recently and here is an image I took with it:

© Photographer: Bradcalkins | Agency:

Sadly, my Canon 20D seems to be packing it in. I have a number of issues these days, none of which impact the photos, thankfully:

1. Image fails to save, get Err 99.
2. Lens stops working aperture goes to 0, needs to be removed and put back (Canon lenses).
3. When reviewing photos, a click of the dial fails to advance the photo. One more click causes it to jump 2.
4. Battery indicator shows no battery, camera shuts off. Removing and replacing same battery shows 100% charge again.
5. Occasionally the camera does not focus when I half press the shutter. Nothing seems to happen - although the meter engages, etc. I thought this due to having the depth of field inadvertantly acitvated, but have proven that to not be the case. Can't quite figure this one out.

I'm building up to a 40D or 50D, I figure. Don't really want the 15MP, but will sell for more as stock, plus the screen on the 50D is nice, and the focus microadjust. If I'm buying I figure I should probably hit the latest and get another 4-5 years out of it. I must have over 50,000 shots on the 20D, now.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Opportunity for photo taking

I had some engine trouble last week, and rather than being worried about the actual problem my first thought was to grab a picture before the engine light turned off!

Car trouble engine light
© Photographer: Bradcalkins | Agency:

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Over on dtnguyen's blog, there was an interesting article on managing a telephoto to get sharp photos. Someone commented that the photo used as an example wasn't sharp, and there was a bit of a 'challenge' for a sharper photo from a telephoto. I started looking through a few photos, and although I have a lot of 'sharper' examples, they are not from telephotos, and are almost in every case a larger portion of the frame. I tried to find some that were about the same percentage of the frame. What I found was that almost all my telephoto shots (70-200 f/4) are a little less sharp than my shots from my 17-55 f/2.8. Here are a couple of examples of what I would consider typical sharp photos my lenses seem to deliver in REAL shots, either outside or in the 'studio'. Another way of saying that is that I don't think I get any sharper results in my telephoto shots (with a great lens that is very capable) than in the example enlargement.

This is from my 17-55mm at 55mm, stopped down a stop:
This is from my 70-200mm at 189mm, wide open at f/4:
Both are processed through Phase One Capture LE with no output sharpening. I didn't adjust any of the settings from the shot defaults. The top photo is a flash capture indoors, and the bottom is a sunlight/shade shot outdoor. I used a 1/250s shutter speed in the telephoto shot (plus IS), and I shoot on an APC sized sensor (Canon 20D).

I'd informally judge them to be about the same sharpness, but the bottom shot was a relatively rare find among my telephoto shots. Perhaps I tend to use the telephoto more often for 'action' shots whereas the shorter focal lengths get more use in controlled lighting situations (i.e. studio/flash). In any case I think it speaks to the need to take time to ensure sharp results from long lenses - the original point of the article.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Color Management, Photoshop Elements & EpsonR1800

After sorting through a large number of web search results to try and find the best settings to use for my Epson R1800 printer, using Espon Premium Photo Paper Glossy, and Photoshop Elements 5 - I finally hit upon a bunch of settings that work for ME. I've ignored the reams of advice to let Photoshop manage the color and turn off the printer color management. Here are the settings I arrived at:

Selected 'Let Printer Manage Color' in PSE:

In the print driver ICM mode, I select my color space (Adobe RGB (1998) for this print), and the paper profile from Espon. What could be easier!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Image Stabilization Works...

Last night I thought I would take a few test shots with my 70-200mm IS lens. This is a 1:1 centre crop of a handheld shot taken at 200mm, at 1/13s f/4. There is no chance I could take a picture this sharp at that shutter speed and focal length without IS. I've converted from RAW and done a little sharpening, about equal to what I would normally do on a shot to print. Also - this was not one out of a bunch of trials, but the only shot taken. The point is that it helps a lot in low light with a static subject.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Depth of Field

Here is an interesting 'take' on the depth of field issue between crop and "full frame" sensors. Anyone using anything other than a 24x36mm sensor will likely be interested in some of Paul's conclusions.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

White Balance

I mentioned a while back that I had purchased a Robin Myers grey card. Here is an example of a RAW conversion using the 'As Shot' white balance obtained with the card. I'm really happy with the colors on this. Without the card I was a long way off.

In this case I shot my Canon 580EX through a shoot through umbrella located at camera left. In behind I used my reflector still in the black/silver case with the black side facing the camera. With the flash diffused, but so close to the background, I had to reduce the black a bit to get the background not looking slightly grey. It is a bit of a cliche shot, but I'm developing skills here!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Nik Software - Viveza

It seems to be a non-event on the photo websites, but I think this is a pretty cool product. I love things like this that move you to a new way of thinking about your pictures. I downloaded a trial and gave it a try - it is great for certain types of pictures.
Sounds like Nikon has been using the U-POINT technology for a while - maybe it is just Canon owners that are getting to catch up?

Friday, February 8, 2008

Runner up in West Jet photo contest

Well, I made it in the top ten in Westjet's annual photo contest. Only the top three are published, but I am featured with the other 6 runners-up on their web site:

You have to click on the photo that won to see the rest. There are little right and left arrows at the bottom of the photo to step through them. If you want to go right to mine, hit the left arrow, since I'm last.

Bring the camera...

"Bring the camera..." Seems a simple enough maxim for an amateur photographer. Yet until recently I've been lacking in this area. I do a pretty good job of hauling around my camera despite its size, but I don't often bring more than the basic standard zoom. At Christmas I received a Lowepro Slingshot bag. It has already made a big difference in what I take with me. I can carry my camera with portrait grip, standard zoom, 70-200mm zoom, two flashes, lensbaby, wireless transmitter, batteries, chargers, a rocket blower and memory cards. This weekend I emptied the bag of the various flash accessories, but left in the lenses and camera. I struck out on a hour and 15 minute showshoe trek and ended up in the presence of a woodpecker. Fortunately, I had my telephoto in the bag on my back. I ended up with this picture:

Not going to win any contests, but not remotely possible with my standard zoom.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

New Grey Card from Robin Myers Imaging

Yesterday I got my new grey card in the mail from Robin Myers Imaging. It looks visibly different from my old Kodak grey card. I took a test shot with the WB custom set to the RM card (bottom), but with my Kodak card in the photo as well. I though it would be interesting to go into Photoshop and see what the grey card from Kodak comes up as, when the RM card is white balanced. As you can see, they are visibly different. I've put the RGB values next to each card. You can see that the Kodak card is not neutral, and would result in a blue cast if used to white balance. Looking forward to doing some test shots with people to see the difference.

It is also much more durable - more plastic like and supposedly waterproof and washable. Price was about the same too, but the RM card is much smaller than what was in the Kodak package.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Sites to learn from

There are so many great resources on the web, but a couple that I checked out recently:

The first I found clicking through the latest Strobist favourites, the other reading through some Flickr groups: Canon Speedlite. Finally, George Barr is a fellow Calgarian, so I've been following his blog for a while. Lots of discussion on the process of taking photos in the first place, and the things that run through a photographer's mind. He has just released a book on improving the WAY you think about taking photos that is refreshing (finally, a photo book without a section on equipment).

I also got a couple of books for Christmas. I'll be posting some workflow tips sooner or later. My current assignment is to improve the color of skin in my photos. I'm missing something on the white balance thing. One thing I found out from the 'Skin' book is that the grey card I have is not neutral for white balance, but for exposure. Didn't occur to me that the two were different. I suspect that it isn't THAT off (more me than the grey card), but for the cost of a new grey card I'm going to replace it. The new one will be waterproof as well, which is nice. I tend to avoid getting out the grey card I have now in rainy conditions.

One aspect of white balance I don't quite get is that everywhere you set white balance there are two dimensions - color temp. and tint. But on my 20D you only set color temp in the Kelvin preset. My question is twofold:

1. Is tint in the camera accessible through the crazy, joystick controller color adjustment thingy - or not at all?
2. When I use the built in white balance feature to set a custom white balance is it just picking up color temp, or tint as well?

In auto, as reported in Camera RAW or Capture One I see a different tint and color temp from shot to shot. I need to shoot a couple of pictures to convince myself that tint is or is not picked up in the custom white balance modes.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Image Stabilization (IS) with EOS lenses

I have two IS lenses, the 17-55 and the 70-200. Here are my observations on IS:

1. I can't stop people with anything slower than 1/60th of a second, when it comes to my kids. At a wedding I did last summer, the bride and groom were more static so 1/30th seemed fine. The rule of thumb is that you can't handhold below 1/Focal Length for a lens. Using 35mm equivalents, I should be using 1/60th or faster for a 40mm lens. Therefore, IS is useless to me for focal lengths below 40mm (for people shots). In reality, I never use IS with my 17-55 for moving people shots. Works great for sleeping babies, though Max sleeping. IS really shines with a longer lens like the 70-200. I can shoot at 200mm with 1/60th of a second and get sharp shots.

2. IS is great when you want to get a long ambient exposure combined with flash. I took some shots at Halloween where my family was lit by flash, with great ambient lit buildings in the background. I use this a lot with the 17-55.

3. Depth of field can be extended for landscapes. When shooting with a 20mm lens at 1/30 f/4, you could go down to f/8 and drop the shutter down to 1/8s. This would otherwise be too slow to hold and require a tripod.

4. Canon makes the claim that viewing through an IS lens is better than sensor stabilization because you can see the effect. I would agree on a long lens. I can compose better with a stable viewfinder image. With the wider lens it isn't a significant factor. In a perfect world I would support sensor stabilization for use will all lenses, but probably put the IS into long lenses. This would minimize lens cost for the photographer.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Horsing Around

Tried to do a little multi light setup tonight. From the setup shot you can see the 580EX fired into a 32" silver umbrella, a 430EX on the table bottom right, 'snooted' through two books (too lazy to get out the cereal box yet), and a silver reflector to the right of the subject (toy horse).

This is a shot with just the umbrella flash:

Here is the same shot with the reflector in place:

Finally, with teh 430EX snooted light fired at the back of the horse's head:

One thing I realized is that the umbrella really spills the light, as can be seen by the otherwise unlit background, which is really quite grey (not black).

This one I took later, with the reflector moved behind, and the 430EX fired at the reflector with a red gel:

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Question for Canon Flash users

I have found that the STE-2 has some differences in use compared to using the 580EX as the master. The biggest annoyance I have is that I can't see how to set the 580EX on the camera to manual and still trigger the second flash on ETTL. What I am trying to do is create the smallest amount of fill flash possible (say 1/64 or 1/128 power), but having the ETTL do its job with a 2nd flash set to bounce off the ceiling. The Canon body and/or flashes only let me go to -3 EV on ETTL, which I find isn't enough when the subject is close to the camera, especially if the bounced flash is far away.

I CAN set the bounced flash to manual and achieve what I want, but it doesn't automatically adjust for distance as I move around a room...

[I did have a question in here about using the flash ratio with the 580EX on the camera, and thought I might be missing something. Turned out I was, the ratio does work with the 580 on the camera as group A, in Canon terminology]

Canon flash ratio with STE-2, 580EX and 430EX

I recently acquired a new 430EX flash to go with my 580EX and STE-2 transmitter. Since one of the things I can now do is balance the two flashes while still in E-TTL, I decided to do a quick test with a typical sample subject. I haven't found many examples on the web, so I wanted to post these as an example of what you can do using the STE-2 - which seems to get a bad rap on the various off camera sites compared to the pocket wizard (dg28 excepted).

The poinsettias have a similar problem to a person's face - when you use bounce flash off the ceiling, there are shadows in the areas that can't 'see' the light from the flash. This is typical of a person's eye sockets. I therefore added my second flash to hit the flowers from the front, while my second flash bounced off the ceiling. I took a series of 7 shots to go from 8:1 through 1:8. You can see how the fill flash on the leaves goes from non-existent to overpowering as I run through the ratios. Also the room in the background gets less and less lit as the front flash goes up in comparison.

8:1 (bounce to fill)

This one is getting some detail in the leaves underneath, but starting to cast shadows on the leaves as well. I had the flash to the left of the camera so this could be avoided if I had put the flash on axis, and slightly above the camera position.




Here is a quick setup shot, with the front flash shown on the couch next to my camera position. The other flash is on the end of the fireplace mantel - next to the lampshade. My exposure was short enough in shutter speed to not pick up any ambient light in the shot.