Welcome to MPS 2.0!

Regular visitors will notice that our site looks a bit different today.  While MovableType served me well for years, it simply hasn’t kept pace with the features, themes, and plug-ins available for WordPress.  Importing a few years worth of work isn’t without hiccups — if you notice any broken links, missing images, or misformatted posts please don’t hesitate to let me know.

Photos in front of the Christmas Tree

This time of year many of us want pics of the kids in front of the tree to send to relatives, printing on cards, etc.  Shooting these images can be a challenge because lights on the tree are warm (colour temperature) and not that bright.  Using a flash or strobes (which are much cooler) will result in images that are difficult to colour balance and if you run your flash and camera on auto it will usually wash out the tree lights.

Here’s a quick recipe to get you going:

1) Mount your camera on a tripod and use a cable release (or self timer if a cable release isn’t available and your subjects will hold still that long). Turn your flash off.

2) Use tungsten light (i.e. standard light bulbs) to light your subjects. I use an inexpensive hot light that takes a standard size bulb and a 10-inch reflector.  This year I used a common 100w bulb and placed it high and center. Move it closer or further away until the tree light, ornaments, and the face of your subjects have the look you want. Be creative – use room lights, lights with clamps, or whatever you have.  Just try to stick to the same colour temperature to preserve the balance and help achieve that warm look.

3) Set your camera in aperture priority mode (“A”) and select the smallest aperture (i.e. largest f-number) that still results in a shutter speed higher than 1/10. You may need to adjust your ISO to a higher number, such as 400. f5.6 at 1/20th or faster would be ideal, but you may not get there.  Some of my favourite shots this year were at f2.8, 1/15th, ISO 400. With large apertures pay careful attention to focus and depth of field. If your camera allows you to “zoom” in while viewing images, use that feature to check for focus and sharpness, especially if photographing kids that don’t hold perfectly still.

4) If you have an advanced camera you can set your white balance manually. If not (or if you don’t want to) just shoot with auto white balance and adjust in Lightroom or your favourite photo editor after the shoot.  3000k is a good starting point.


Kodak Playsport Zx3 Review

During the summer Kodak was kind enough to lend me a Playsport to test out for a two-week camping trip. The Playsport is a light-weight, pocket-size HD video (and still) camera that is waterproof to 3 meters.

The Playsport features a 5 megapixel sensor and shoots video at WVGA, 720p and 1080p through a fixed focus lens that works out to a 35mm equivalent of 36mm for stills, WVGA, and 720p and a 48mm equivalent for 1080p.  It offers 30 frame per second on all video modes plus an additional 60fps mode at 720p. The lens is a fixed focal length, but it does offer a 4x digital zoom and electronic image stabilization. It has 128MB internal memory, but is primarily designed to shoot directly to a SD or SDHC card. And finally, it has a built in mono microphone and speaker for playback, USB 2.0, AV out, an HDMI connector, and accepts a standard 1/4” tripod mount.

But enough of the technical specs. The PlaySport is the most fun video camera I’ve ever had the pleasure of using. I used it in the truck, in the trailer, in the pool, and it spent several hours in the ocean off of Cape Cod tethered to my wrist.

Like all other cameras in the pocket video class, it’s easy to criticize the lack of optical zoom, fixed-focus lens, or the fact that the audio can get a bit strange sounding when the microphone is wet. But I kept coming back to, “It costs $160 and it’s waterproof.”  I own an expensive video camera, and I wouldn’t take it to the beach for fear or getting a few grains of sand in the mechanism. But there I was, playing with the kids in the ocean surf and shooting video clips.  I shot mostly at 720p to balance quality with file size, and I was pleased with the results.

When it came to uploading a few clips to YouTube, it was also a breeze because the Playsport produces H.264 .MOV files that can be directly uploaded, no editing or re-encoding required.

The bottom line:  Two weeks with the Playsport changed the way I see personal video – from expensive and fragile to something really fun I could carry with me all the time. If you’re looking for an easy-to-use digital video camera that you can take anywhere, look no further. Highly recommended.

Color Scheme Designer

As a photographer I hate to admit it, but I’m horrible when it comes to picking colour schemes.  I know what I don’t like – it’s easy for me to conclude that a colour is too warm or cold, that I’d prefer a darker shade, or that the saturation just doesn’t cut it.  But ask me to help choose a colour palette for a web site, and I’m in trouble.

Over the weekend while searching for some help, I ran across this gem: Color Scheme Designer.  It’s a free web-based application that allows you to choose a hue, adjust saturation, brightness, contrast and other options to develop your killer colour scheme.

When you’re done, you can click on the “Scheme ID” (look for it on the right under the four colour squares) to obtain a URL to your new scheme – perfect for sending to friends, colleagues and web designers for their opinion.  Thanks to Petr Stanicek for this excellent tool!

Ten Spring Break Photo Tips

Whether you’re going on a vacation to somewhere hot and sunny, or staying around town to visit local attractions, you’ll want to remember every moment of the fun. Why not grab your favourite digital SLR camera to document your spring break with the utmost flair? Switch to Manual mode and get creative with your shots. Take time now to learn what your camera can do beyond Auto mode. Not sure where to begin? Follow these simple tips and make this year’s spring break photos your best ever.

1. Shoot in continuous mode – If you’ve ever had trouble taking crisp, clear photos of a constantly moving subject, a child or pet for example, try changing your camera settings to a continuous burst mode. Several frames per second will increase your chances of catching your subject just the way you want. If you have Subject Tracking, you’ll have an even greater array of features to help you capture that perfect shot.

2. Flash forward – Using a flash ensures all your photos are crisp and clear, especially in darker lit settings such as a dinner or dance party. And don’t stop there – be sure to use flash outdoors as well to help balance any dark contrasts.

3. Work with what you’ve got – Take advantage of your camera’s settings whether it’s a low-light sensitive capability such as a broad ISO range, or automatic setting selections for taking pictures in various environments. Learn the features your camera offers and use them to create impressive images you’ll be proud to put on display.

4. Shutter finger – The beauty of digital is the ability to review any photographs you take instantly and decide which you would like to keep or re-shoot. With this in mind, don’t hold back. Take more pictures rather than fewer and sort through them later. This will help you focus on the photo opportunities at hand, giving you a better chance of capturing that perfect shot.

5. Exposure is key – Any good photo has an intended balance to the amount of light used when the picture was taken. Experiment with your camera’s exposure settings, bracketing the brightness levels for different effects. Sometimes an over or underexposed photo can be a creative expression of an otherwise normal photograph. Just remember, when in doubt, underexpose – these images can be brightened later on, whereas an overexposed image won’t pick up all the details and not much can be done to correct it.

6. Get to know, be a pro – Take into account who or what your subject is. If you are photographing a person, learn what their personality is like and what they are comfortable with; if you are taking photos of an animal, you will need to know what its temperament is; and taking pictures of an object requires you to identify the best features to highlight. The more you learn and understand, the better you will be able to model your photograph in its best light.

7. Wherever you will go – Take your camera with you so you never miss a moment. When selecting a new camera, consider how you will transport it. If you select a smaller unit, this will be less of a concern, but if you purchase a larger, heavier camera with additional lenses and flash attachments, consider investing in a good camera bag to protect your equipment and make it more portable. When on foot, take advantage of a camera strap around your neck – many of today’s digital SLR cameras feature rapid start-up times, so you’ll always be ready if a picture opportunity arises.

8. The more the merrier – Challenge your skill level. Investing in a few accessories can make photography easier and help to produce better photos. A tripod can help to steady a shot, while additional lenses provide various zoom options, macro options, wide-angle, and more. Adding an external flash can make a photo more dynamic. Digital SLRs are great because they are customizable to every photographer’s needs.

9. Don’t forget to touch up – Make life easier by performing simple image corrections right on the camera before uploading them to your computer. This makes picture development a snap.

10. Have fun! Be creative – Get up high or down real low to capture that perfect shot, creating dimension, angles and a personal flare to all your photos. Develop your own style of photography to set yourself apart from the crowd.

Gregory Flasch is Advertising & Communications Manager in the Consumer Products Division of Nikon Canada Inc.

Camera Buyer’s Guide

Choosing a camera is tough. Choosing a camera for someone else is even tougher. So with Christmas on the horizon, we’ll help you wade through the sea of cameras at your local retailer and narrow down the choices to a more manageable number.

The key to choosing a camera is to consider it a tool. Your challenge is not to find the perfect camera because it doesn’t exist. Instead, we’re looking for the best tool for the job. So to begin, we’ll divide the digital camera marketing into three categories: Pocket, Compact and SLR.

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Is my camera good enough?

Rohit writes,

“I’m using a Canon S3. It’s a simple SLR so and I’m a beginner. Is it a good camera for me?”

I haven’t tried that camera, but from the specs it certainly appears to have all the features you’ll need to learn photography.  As I often say, “It’s not the camera, it’s how you use it.” If you haven’t signed up already, please consider joining 12 Weeks to Better Photography!