Monthly Archives: June 2007

Link Roundup 06-30-07

  • Do it yourself – Lightbox @
    How to make your own photography lightbox, and a sturdy one at that!
  • 90+ Online Photography Tools and Resources @ Mashable
    A plethora of resources for photographers of all experience levels.
  • Photographing Lightning @ f/1.0
    Detailed explanation and instructions on photographing lightning. Gear and Techniques to get the most out of your “bolt” photos.
  • Virtual Lens Plant @ Canon Camera Museum
    See how lenses are made. Includes videos of lenses being ground and assembled as well as interviews with staff. A must see for anyone into photography.
  • Light Painting Explained @ Adcuz Photography & Blog
    Two different types of light painting are explained in this article: dramatic lighting and light trails.

That’s It — I’m Quitting

I’ve put a lot of thought into this decision, and I know it’s the right thing to do for myself and for my family. I just can’t take it anymore. I’m not satisfied with what I’m doing and the path I’m going down. This is just something I have to do.

It saddens me to say that today will be my last day… at my day job, that is. Had you going there, didn’t I? You thought I was going to quit blogging. It’s funny, because The Strobist made a similar announcement yesterday that he would be taking a one year leave of absence from his day job.

But the difference between he and I is that I’ll actually be starting a new job in two weeks. Unfortunately I’m not at a point where I can blog full time, but who knows, maybe some time down the road. I currently work for Ethicon as a medical device engineer in Research and Development here in New Jersey. On July 16th, I’ll be working for Quartus Engineering in San Diego as a mechanical engineer working on design and analysis. I know, I know — San Diego is a terrible place to live, but we’ll manage to struggle through.

So what does all this mean for the blog? Nothing really — except that I might be posting some road trip photos in addition to regular entries on the week of the 9th. My wife and I are taking a cross-country road trip while our things are shipped out to our new place (which happens to be right behind the Torrey Pines State Reserve). It should be a fun drive — we’ll be making a few stops along the way, including a visit with my Grandfather in Missouri and a stop at the Grand Canyon.

I’m not terribly familiar with a lot of other photo-ops along the way, so if any of you have suggestions for things to see along I-70 or I-40, let me know in the comments. We have seven full days to make the trip, so we’ll have plenty of time to make a few stops.

Well, I’m off to my last day of real work here on the East Coast…

Emerald Pool

This one was from my last trip to the Delaware Water Gap here in New Jersey. It was spring time, so the creeks were teaming with new growth and bright colors. I found this little pool along one of the creeks, and it really caught my attention. I was packing a tripod, so I set up and took a handful of shots at different focal lengths, shutter speeds, and with different lenses. Out of all the shots, I liked the composition and sense of motion in this one the best, so I finally went ahead and post processed it. It’s a little cluttered, but there’s still something I like about it… I’m just not exactly sure what it is.

Emerald Pool Process Steps

The JPEG (1) of this shot looked alright, but the tonal range just wasn’t there for as much contrast the scene had. The processed RAW file (2) looked a little better to me, plus I adjusted the temperature to make it a little warmer. After that, I dove right into the first curves adjustment (3) to brighten everything up while masking the highlights to keep them from getting any brighter than they already were. I did another curves adjustment (4) to darken the highlights by masking out the entire adjustment layer and poking holes in the areas of highlight. This helped to bring the overall contrast of the photo down to a reasonable level so it wasn’t so distracting due to the sunny spots in the scene. Then I did another curves adjustment (5) to brighten a few key elements of the photo: parts of the water, the walls of the pool, and a few of the mossy areas. This gave me some contrast where I wanted it, so that certain parts of the image would stand out more than others. At this point the photo looked OK to me, but I wasn’t satisfied with the overall look. So I applied a Color Burn Layer Blend (6) with a duplicate merged layer at 100% opacity and 29% fill. This really boosted the contrast and color in the entire image, and kind of gave it a strange feel. I sat on the results for a couple of weeks, but I decided to keep what I had done when I came back to it. The last step was some sharpening with the Unsharp Mask (7) at an amount of 93%, a radius of 2.8 pixels, and a threshold of 4 levels.

Emerald Pool

** You can also see this photo on Zooomr and Flickr **

Photo by Brian Auer
05/07/07 Delaware Water Gap
Emerald Pool
Konica Minolta Maxxum 7D
Konica Minolta AF DT 18-200
27mm equiv * f/22 * 1/3s * ISO100

Quick Tip: Format Your Memory Card

Memory Cards

I decided a few months ago that I would always format my memory card after unloading my images from the camera. I happy to say that I’ve actually stuck with it. I’ve never had a problem with my memory cards, but I gained the understanding that it’s not a bad idea to format the card after each photo shoot. It takes a few seconds of your time, and it helps to ensure that you’ll be less likely to have issues with your memory card in the field. Like I said, I’ve stuck with this habit since I wrote the article titled “Clearing Out Your Memory Card“. If you’re not convinced, give it a read. Don’t argue, just do it.

What Post-Processing Software Do You Use?

I had a pretty good response with the last reader poll, so I think I’ll try to do more of these. This week, I want to know what kind of post-processing software you use as your primary photo editing tool. I use Photoshop CS3, and many of my articles on post-processing are centered around Photoshop. Maybe most of you use Photoshop and I’m not too far out of bounds, but let me know what you use. As with most of my polls, you can add answers if they’re not listed. I’ll leave this running until next week, then I’ll shut it down and start up a new one.

You can see the results of the last reader poll at “POLL RESULTS: What Type of Camera Do You Shoot With?

Post-Processing Software Poll Results

Quick-Tip: Aperture Bracketing

Most of us have heard of exposure bracketing, but how about aperture bracketing or f-number bracketing? When you bracket your exposure, you take multiple shots of the same scene at different exposures — usually at -1EV, 0EV, and +1EV exposure compensation. I often find myself doing the same type of thing with my aperture. I’ll usually shoot three photos of the same scene using the aperture priority mode on the camera: one photo with a large aperture, one with a mid-range aperture, and one with a small aperture. I don’t do this with every subject, but sometimes I’m unsure of what depth of field would work best for that scene. So by varying the aperture, I can get a sample of different DOFs and choose the best one back on the computer screen. This method has saved my photos on more than one occasion — especially while doing macro work!

From left to right: f/2.8, f/11, and f/32. I kept the f/32 shot and post-processed it. You can see that post-processing at “Dandelion Dandy“.

Link Roundup 06-22-07

I do a lot of reading via feed aggregation and web surfing, and I typically submit the articles that I find interesting to the social bookmarking and networking sites. I’d like to start sharing some of those findings here on the blog too, so I’ll try posting three to five links every once in a while.

Graffiti Scooter

This photo was taken on the quaint little streets of Neuchatel, Switzerland. I went out for a little evening photo-stroll after work during a business trip. This scooter caught my eye because it was so nicely framed against a garage door with brick walls. The fact that there was a little graffiti on the door was just icing on the cake. It was getting dark out, so I had to shoot this one at ISO400 and a wide open aperture. Overall I’m pretty happy with the composition and lighting, but I’m now considering whether I should darken the left brick wall to match a little better with the right wall.

Graffiti Scooter

I didn’t do a ton of post processing, but the change from start to finish was pretty drastic. The JPEG image out of the camera (not shown) turned out decent, but I knew I’d want to really punch it up in color and contrast. When I did the RAW conversion (1), I actually toned down the color and contrast to make it a bit more drab than it really was — I did this because I knew I’d be doing the next step in my process. I used a hard mix layer blend (2) at 51% opacity and 47% fill to really bring out the colors and contrast. I started with a dull photo because this layer blend can be very harsh when used with a contrasty photo, and I find that it gives an interesting look when done in the fashion I’ve used here. I then proceeded to apply a levels adjustment layer (3) by bringing the white point down to 224, which brought up the overall brightness and contrast of the photo. Then on to a curves adjustment layer (4) to bring up the highlights and midtones a little more. I wanted more darkness in the shadows, so I applied another curves adjustment layer (5) to bring the shadows and midtones down a bit. The last step was a bit of sharpening (6) with the unsharp mask.

Graffiti Scooter

Photo by Brian Auer
03/05/07 Neuchatel, Switzerland
The Graffiti Scooter
Konica Minolta Maxxum 7D
Konica Minolta AF DT 18-200
135mm equiv * f/5.6 * 1/45s * ISO400

So You Think You Know What An F-Number Is


Most of us have heard, and probably used, the term f-number. Most of us have also probably used the term interchangeably with “f-stop” or “aperture”. What are all these things, really? Yes, they have to do with the size of the hole allowing light to pass through the lens, and they affect depth of field and light intensity. But I’m talking about what these things really are.

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First, let’s start with a few definitions. An aperture is simply a hole which allows light to pass through it. A diaphragm is the mechanism inside your lens that forms an aperture, and most modern lenses have an iris diaphragm made up of several interlocking blades. An f-stop is a discrete step in the f-number, and it refers to the physical stops in the diaphragm adjustment. So how are all these things different from an f-number?

An f-number is a measure of lens speed and it is defined by the focal length of the lens divided by the diameter of the aperture — f/# = f/D where f = focal length and D = aperture diameter. So if the focal length of the lens is equal to the diameter of the aperture, you’d have an f/1. If the focal length of the lens is 8 times longer than the diameter of the aperture, you’d have an f/8.

F-Number = f/D = (Focal Length)/(Aperture Diameter)

Here’s an example with one of my fixed focal length lenses (zooms are a little more complicated so I’ll hit that in a moment). I have a 50mm f/1.4 lens. The f/1.4 designation means that it has a maximum f-number of 1.4 — so that’s as big as it gets. The minimum f-number on this lens is f/16, so it can vary from f/1.4 to f/16. So using the formula for f-number: at a 50mm focal length and an f-number of 1.4, the equation states 1.4(f/#) = 50mm(f)/(D). Do the algebra, and we get 50mm/1.4 = 35.7mm. That’s physically how big the aperture is at it’s maximum. If I had a f/1.2 lens, the max aperture would be 41.7mm. Now to the other end of the scale, the aperture on this lens has a minimum diameter of 50mm/16 = 3.1mm. Similarly, my 105mm f/2.8 lens has a maximum f-number of f/2.8, an aperture diameter of 37.5mm — which is about the same size as my 50mm lens at f/1.4, which is two stops up from f/2.8.

for a 50mm lens…
1/# mm sqmm
1.4 35.7 1002
2 25.0 491
2.8 17.9 250
4 12.5 123
5.6 8.9 63
8 6.3 31
11 4.5 16
16 3.1 8

On the 50mm lens, including the minimum and maximum f-numbers, there are a total of 8 full f-stops: f/1.4, 2, 2.8, 4, 5.6, 8, 11, and 16, with half-stops between everything but 1.4 and 2 (things like f/1.7, f/6.7, and f/9.5 are half stops — f/1.8, f/3.5, and f/6.3 are third stops found in most modern lenses). Each full stop lets half as much light in as the last full stop. This is because the area of the aperture is reduced by half with each stop. The values in the table represent the f-numbers, aperture diameters, and aperture areas for this lens. Note the reduction of area as the f-numbers increase. Each full stop down lets half as much light into the camera, and you can see that the area of the aperture for each stop is also cut in half. This is where a lot of people end up confusing themselves over f-numbers. Higher f-numbers mean smaller apertures — just remember that. To help explain the numbers in the table a little better, the image below shows the 50mm lens at each full stop from f/1.4 to f/16 from left to right.

Standard F-Stops on a 50mm Prime Lens

Zoom lenses are a bit more complicated, and they generally fall into two groups: constant f-number and variable f-number. Variable f-number zooms are most common because they are simpler and cheaper. You can spot these lenses by their markings — f/3.5-6.3 means that the lens has a maximum f-number of f/3.5 at the shorter focal length and f/6.3 at the longer focal length. This doesn’t mean that the aperture changes as you zoom; it actually means that it doesn’t change. Remember that f-number is the quotient of focal length and aperture diameter, so as you zoom to a higher focal length (and keep the aperture constant) you allow less light into the camera and the f-number changes. On the other hand, the really spendy zoom lenses can maintain a constant f-number at all focal lengths. To achieve this, they must increase the effective aperture diameter as the focal length increases to keep the same f-number ratio.

F-numbers in zoom lenses aren’t quite as simple as I’ve made them out to be. That’s basically how they work, but truthfully, I don’t know exactly how they work. If you run the numbers on a zoom lens, it turns out that you don’t get a constant aperture diameter as the focal length increases and the f-number changes. Physically, I’m pretty sure the aperture diameter stays the same. But when you zoom a lens, you shift the location of lens elements, the diaphragm, focal planes, inflection points, etc., and some of these things are factors for the effective aperture diameter. I’m not an optics expert, so I’ll leave it at that.

Basically, the major take-away from this should be that the f-number is a measure of lens speed — regardless of the camera, regardless of the lens, and regardless of the conditions. If you and a friend are out shooting, you should be able to get the same exposure of a particular subject if you shoot using the same f-number, shutter speed, and ISO value (assuming ISO’s between cameras is somewhat comparable). It takes the focal length and aperture diameter into account in order to give a value of how much light will be allowed into the camera.

If anybody else out there has a better explanation of how f-numbers on zoom lenses work, feel free to let us know.

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MORE Equipment Options for Macro Photography

Most of you seemed to find my “Equipment Options for Macro Photography” fairly useful, so I thought I’d follow it up with some more macro equipment. Last time I focused on the lens options — so this time I’ll focus on all the other stuff that’s also used in macro work. Basically, I’m talking about anything that doesn’t attach to the front of the camera body, so these are things that can be used for any type of camera.



Camera shake is more prone to occur while shooting macro, due to the high magnification levels. A tripod is the best way to battle shake issues — and a good tripod is almost critical. Look for something sturdy enough to hold up during a breezy day, and something flexible enough to get into tight spots. In macro, you’re working up-close so it’s nice to have a tripod with independent leg angles and lengths. Also look for a tripod that can get real low and/or invert the center column to get right on the ground. The tripod in the picture is the Slik Pro 700DX tripod with independent legs that are adjustable to 3 different angles. The center column is two pieces and it can be inverted, so it can reach really high and and really low. I chose to buy one of these mainly because of their rigidity and sturdiness. It’s practically indestructible.

Tripod Head


Almost any good tripod head will do fine for macro work, just as long as it’s sturdy and predictable. The slightest movement in the head can cause your entire macro composition to be thrown out of whack. Leveling indicators are nice to have, but aren’t completely necessary in most macro work. If you’re concerned about being level, look for a head with two tubular levels rather than a bull’s eye level (though most ballheads have a bull’s eye). The tripod head in the picture is a Slik AF2100 Pistol Grip Ballhead. I picked up one of these when I bought my tripod, and I absolutely love using it. It’s very sturdy while locked, and very easy to operate when released. I like using this head because I can aim and lock the camera with one hand while I manually focus with the other hand.

Slider Rail


Often times when shooting macro photos, you focus the image by moving the camera rather than using the focusing ring on the lens. On a macro lens, the focusing ring changes the amount of magnification, and thus the composition of the subject. Macro shots also have a very small depth of field (unless you stop the lens WAY down), so the slightest movement can throw the image out of focus. A macro focusing rail (or slider rail) sits between your tripod head and your camera, and acts as a precision moving platform for your camera. You can find them in single-axis or double-axis (as shown in the picture) models. I don’t have one of these yet, but it’s probably my next piece of macro equipment I’ll buy.



Sometimes tripods just can’t get you where you need to be — like on the ground. A beanbag is a good way to stabilize your camera on top of other objects or the ground. The nice thing about these tools is that they conform to the camera resting place and the camera so you don’t have to worry about your camera falling off of something or getting dirty or wet from the ground. Most of them are small enough to fit in your camera bag, and they typically don’t weigh much. I keep meaning to pick one up, but it keeps evading me. At around $10, it’s hardly worth NOT getting one.

Ring Flash


When shooting at close distances less than one or two feet, a traditional flash just won’t work. You end up with half-covered lighting, shading from the lens, and harsh directional lighting. A ring flash mounts to the front of the lens and directs light straight at your subject. Some ring flashes even have the capability to turn down or turn off certain sections of the ring in order to give slightly directional lighting for higher impact. Ring flashes can also be used in non-macro photography, and I’ve often heard of them being used for portrait work in conjunction with other studio lights. I don’t have one of these either, but it’s next on the list after the slider rail. The downside to these flash units is that they cost just as much as a traditional flash.



If you can’t afford a ring flash right now, a small reflector might be a good thing to have handy. A reflector can be placed near the subject to redirect available light. You can find these in all different sizes and colors, but for macro work you really shouldn’t need anything bigger than 24 inches in diameter. Most of the reflectors you find will fold down to about 1/3 of their expanded size, making them easy to pack in your camera bag. Again, this is one of those things that I keep saying I’ll pick up, but I keep forgetting. They’re a handy all-around tool to have in your bag.

Angle Finder


When working near, or on the ground, it’s really hard to see through your viewfinder. On SLR cameras, that’s the only way to see your subject since most don’t have a live LCD display (it’s that darned mirror that gets in the way). Fortunately you can attach a right angle viewfinder to the camera’s existing viewfinder so you can look straight down into the camera rather than straight through it. The one I’ve shown in the picture is purely optical, but there are digital models that have a flip-out LCD screen that shows what’s in the viewfinder.

Shutter Release Cable


Even when using a tripod or beanbag, your camera is susceptible to shake and blur. At a very minimum, you should use the short time-delay function on the camera to lock the mirror prior to taking the picture. That can get to be tedious sometimes, especially when you just want to take some shots! A shutter release cable allows you to trigger the shutter without touching the camera. This helps prevent camera shake and it also prevents the tripod head from shifting when pressing the button on the camera.

Head Medicine


Macro photography can be very straining on your eyes and body. Long periods of staring through the viewfinder at strange angles and positions will really drain you. You’re looking for that fine line between in-focus and out-of-focus, you’re making dozens of tiny little adjustments to get the composition right, and you’re usually not sitting comfortably in your recliner while doing these things. It’s probably a good idea to carry some head medicine and pain killers in your bag to keep your stamina up during your day of shooting.

So these are some of the common items found in a macro photographer’s bag, but I’m sure there are a few other obscure pieces of equipment I’ve missed. The thing about these tools is that most of them can be used for other forms of photography, so if you decide to buy them you’ll probably be using them more often than you think.

Did I miss any major items? What other tools do you use for macro work?