Saturday, May 30, 2009

Photographer's Eye

Over the years, I've read more than a few books on photography composition, graphic design, improving my photography, etc. Some of them are very good and I reference them frequently to refresh my memory on certain topics. Others have gone on the shelf after the first read and haven't been touched since.

This post is centered on a book called "The Photographer's Eye - Composition and Design for Better Digital Photos". The author, Michael Freeman, should scratch the word "digital" out of the title because this book is about photography, not just digital photography.

Here is a video about the book.

This book is so good that I would highly recommend it to anyone who's interested in gaining a better understanding of photography and the basics of visual design, photographic elements, compositional techniques, and how to utilize all of these concepts to design better photos.

When I first started to read this book, I got a little stalled due to what I perceived to be the complexity of the subject matter, or the way it was being presented, or both. It seemed like Freeman just dove right into the meat of the book without setting the table enough for me. I put the book aside to read some other books on my list, but soon returned to "Photographer's Eye".

The second time around I reset myself a bit, read the table of contents, re-read the intro, and with that new grounding I now find the book to be excellent. Examining the table of contents was particularly helpful because it gave me a good idea of where Freeman would be heading, and why.

The writing is clear with many well illustrated examples to support the text, and of course many good supporting photos as well. Looking at the photos and illustrations makes it easy to connect with Freeman's concepts.

Freeman walks through:
1) The Image Frame
2) Design Basics
3) Graphic and Photographic Elements
4) Composing With Light and Color
5) Intent
6) Process

Suffice to say, there's a lot of information, techniques, and concepts here. But the key thing is that it all fits together so well. You can almost make each chapter a study on its own and go out to shoot the techniques discussed to learn everything and connect with it. There's way too much to digest on a casual read...You really need to spend some time to absorb the great content in this book.

This book is so highly recommended because it makes you want to slow down, think about what you're doing when you're out photographing, and design better photos. For $20, this is is a steal! Get it and enjoy it!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Which lenses?

When people see that I'm into photography and we get to talking about it, a lot of them ask me, "Which lenses should I buy"?

You can get into a discussion about this for hours, but my advice focuses on three main points:

1) Buy the best lenses that you can afford. Cheap lenses often result in low contrast, low color, soft photos.

2) Don't buy "crop sensor" lenses (like Canon EF-S and Nikon DX) unless you have a specific reason to do so . Some day, full size image sensors will get cheap enough to make that the manufacturers will probably end up putting them in most of their cameras. If you then buy a full sensor camera you'll end up owning a bunch of specialized lenses that won't work properly on full sensor cameras. Buy full frame lenses unless you have a specific reason not to.

3) For most people, good quality zoom lenses are perfect. Buy a "wide zoom" (17-35 mm), a "normal zoom" (28-135mm), and a "long zoom" (70-300mm). Most manufacturers make zooms somewhere close to these focal ranges. I shoot lenses with these ranges and almost never find myself needing any other focal lengths for general photography. If you have one good quality lens in each range, you're good to go.

For more information on this subject, there's no reason for me to repeat what has already been written in this good article from Outdoor Photographer.

Happy shooting!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Digital frames

I'm always surprised by the number of people who have digital cameras and take tons of digital photos, and have no way of displaying them. The pictures sit buried on their computer hard drives and are only glanced at periodically. Just like all of us who used to shoot 35mm slides and have boxes of them in our closets that rarely see the light of day because it's just inconvenient to take them out, set up the screen and projector, etc.

Part of the fun of digital photography is the concept of freeing yourself from the physical mediums of prints, slides, photo albums, etc, and enjoying your photos easily every day whether they're on your computer screen, emailed to people, displayed on the web, or......displayed in your house in digital photo frames!

I've kept an eye on the digital frame market for about six years, but back then they were much too expensive to justify purchasing. Somewhere around $450 for a good one. Around 2006 they took a big drop in price and the quality jumped way up. In 2008, that happened again. In 2009, you can now buy a great quality large (e.g., 10" or 15") digital frame for under $200, and some have even come down to under $150.

Don't buy a cheap/bargain frame for $50. You most likely won't be happy with the quality of the display and there will be few color controls on it.

The best quality frames from Sony, Kodak, Pandigital and others all have some amount of built-in memory and also have built-in multi-card readers so that you can put many thousands of pictures on a memory card and put the card in the frame to randomly display the photos. The number of photos is typically only limited by the size of the memory card that you put in the frame.

Most good frames have fairly extensive color and tone controls so you can get the look you want on the screen, and they usually come with touch screens and/or remote controls as well.

I'm not sure why, but many frame manufacturers have started making their frames in the 16:9 format that's used for wide screen televisions. They're probably doing it to catch the "wide screen marketing craze" that's sweeping the TV retail business. The reality is that digital cameras typically don't pictures in 16:9 wide screen format, so when you display them on a 16:9 digital frame they will be cropped on the top and bottom. In my opinion, this is very silly....but I guess people are buying them anyway.

Instead, what you want to get is a 4:3 aspect ratio frame. This will display your photos in their native size without cropping, which is what you want.

My favorite frame manufacturer is Pandigital. From my experience, their products are well made, reliable, full of useful features, and most importantly the screen quality is great. Pandigital makes both 16:9 and 4:3 ratio frames, and as I mentioned above, I would get the 4:3 format. One of their most popular frames is this 10.4" 4:3 format frame.

The next biggest thing to hit digital frames in a big way will be wireless capability. Kodak currently makes some frames with wireless, but it's not implemented very well. When a company like Sony or Pandigital does wireless effectively in their frames it will eliminate the need to use memory cards with the frames. You'll be able to stream photos easily and reliably right from your computer to the frame. Fantastic! It should be here within a few months...

Once you get yourself a nice frame, load it up with a ton of your pictures, set the auto-play feature to automatically rotate through your photos, and watch your terrific memories rolling by throughout the day. You'll really enjoy it!