Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Why Aren't Extended Timer Facilities Built-in to my DSLR?

On the weekend whilst photographing the limestone pavement on top of Malham cove in the Yorkshire Dales I lost my remote timer switch. It was dangling from my camera and got tangled up in my tripod legs as I was moving my tripod; one of the legs closed, snapped the timer cord out of the socket on the side of the camera which then disappeared down one of the deep grykes in the limestone pavement, never to be seen again. Thankfully it wasn't an original (and very expensive) Canon TC-80N3 remote timer; my original TC-80N3 bit the dust last year when I managed to dangle it in salt water on a Scottish beach, this latest disaster was a only a considerably cheaper eBay clone.

Canon TC-80N3 Remote

However, this recent disaster got me thinking, why am I using a remote timer like this in the first place? I know part of its use is to isolate camera shake, but my main reason is so I can take longer exposures than the maximum of 30 seconds using the settings in the camera alone. Like a whole host of other landscape photographers I enjoy taking pre-dawn and sunrise shots, where the light levels are low and exposures times are long, often well in excess of the limiting and punitive 30 seconds maximum allowed by the camera settings.  As landscape photographers we are always being told that the best light to be had is within Golden Hours, that magical time around sunrise and sunset when the sun is below or only just above the horizon and suns light takes on a wonderful, golden, warm hue as it is filtered through the low atmosphere. Are there no landscape photographers at Canon? Does no one at Canon take exposures longer than 30 seconds?

My 5D Mark II is a sophisticated beast, with way more processing power than several of my early PC's no doubt (8086 processors .. remember them?), so why do I need a clumsy, dangly, plug-in wired contraption to take long exposures. Well I don't I hear several of you say; I can just put the camera in bulb mode and time my exposure; my 5D MII even has a second counter on the LCD display on the top, but that's if I could see the dam thing. Yes well, right, but that's not the point. The point I'm trying to make is that surely all the functionality of the TC-80N3 remote timer could (should) be added to the Camera by a simple firmware upgrade? The processing power is surely present in-camera already, probably the software functionality too, but I somehow doubt the if willingness is there for Canon to implement these features.

If you've never used a remote timer then perhaps you've missed out. Apart from being able to set exposure times from 1 second up to an incedible 99 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds, you can set similar values for the self timer (time before the shutter is activated), the interval timer (time between exposures) and exposure count from 1 to 99 exposures, although I'm not sure why the exposure count has been limited to just 99 exposures.  Thus with the TC-80N3 you can takes exposure of almost any length which is ideal if you happen to be a fan of using a 10-stop ND such as the Lee Big Stopper, low light photography at sunrise or sunset, or even astrophotography. I particularly like the ability to set the self timer to any value since if you ever tried shooting landscape with a 70-200mm zoom or any other long lens, then tripod vibration can be a big problem, so allowing a long rest period before the shutter is activated can improve sharpness considerably. God knows why you can only choose 2 or 10 seconds for this in your camera; surely we should be able to set any value?

It's funny how when every new camera is released that the makers focus (no pun  intended) largely on new features rather than improving existing ones, and much has done with movie features. We seldom see major changes in firmware to change old functions. Really we shouldn't need a device like the TC-80N3 remote timer, all that functionality should be in-camera, and  the most required would be a simple cable release remote cable. All this functionality would be a doddle for Canon to implement in a firmware upgrade but I get the feeling they would much rather you buy their over priced accessory. Thankfully their are many remoter timer clones to be bought on eBay and Amazon nowadays at less than a quarter of the price of an original Canon. I've tried a few and they are just as good, if perhaps not quite as good in build quality, but at a 75% saving surely sales of the originals must have plummeted.

I'd love Canon to take note but won't hold out my hopes; they seem obsessed with making our DSLR's into movie cameras these days. Some of us continue to be stills photographers!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Digital Landscape Photography by John & Barbara Gerlach

Book Review

I used to buy quite a lot of photography books, too many according to my wife, but not so many these days. My recent acquisitions are mostly coffee table books from photographers I really admire and aspire to. It’s been a while since I bought anything to do with technique. That’s not to say I think I have perfected my techniques, far from it indeed, it’s just that most books in this category are firmly pitched at the novice or endless photo manipulation in Photoshop. This one I’m pleased to say that Digital Landscape Photography is a little different from the ‘norm’ and focuses on good technique and capture process in the field.
John and Barbara Gerlach have been professional US photographers for over 25 years, so they bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to this book. They are unusual in that they are a photographing couple and their Wildlife, Nature and Landscape photographs have been widely published in Nature and Photographic journals in the USA since the 1990’s. Rather, strangely (and perhaps expensively), they both use different equipment, one favouring Canon whilst the other uses Nikon equipment (I guess it’s stops fighting over lenses!), so Camera references in the book usually cover both makes and thus will appeal to both Canon and Nikon users.

The book commences with an introduction and chapter stating that landscapes are all around us and if look hard enough we’ll find interesting landscapes near where we live. All well and good if you live in certain parts of the USA (they live in Yellowstone), as the photographs within the book display, but not always the case for UK residents, well not quite as spectacular perhaps. The Gerlach’s stress the importance of revisiting a scene through different seasons of the year and under different conditions, and present a mission statement for the book to enable the reader to learn how to capture high quality, exciting, ditgital landscape images in the field.

Cameras, Accessories and Lenses Choice

Chapters 2 and 3 deal with equipment, but I guess by far the majority of readers, if not all, will have already bought their equipment, so for them there is little new here. However, if your upgrading then there is some good advice here. There is one point on which I firmly agree with the Gerlach’s, if you are a landscape photographers and like to make large prints then megapixels do count. I get fed up of journals stating the pixel count is not important, it is. An 8 MP Cameral may produce excellent A4 prints, but if you want A3 or larger then 16 or 21 MP will capture more detail and give scope to crop. These chapters briefly cover functions you may need for your digital landscape photography, such as using RGB and luminance histograms, the LCD monitors, self timers, cable release, camera custom functions and memory cards.

Chapter 3 deals with lens choice and weighs the pros and cons of professional quality glass against consumer quality. Lens choice for most amateurs is typically related to budget and target output, but believe me, once you’ve purchased your first professional quality lens, you’ll never want to settle for less. There is no free lunch with lenses. Zooms versus Primes are discussed, and the Gerlach’s now favour modern zooms over primes. They state the additional quality gained from primes is now minimal compared to modern day professional zooms, and zooms provide so much more scope in creativity and framing your shot, so are in effect, of far more use. Filters and lens protection are also mentioned, as is caring for your lenses. Good stuff for the beginner but nothing new for a seasoned amateur.


Chapters 4 and 5 are all about technique and here the book really starts to shine. Chapter 4 provides over 20 pages on Mastering Exposure, and if there was anything you were perhaps unsure on, you’ll most probably find it explained here in truly practical fashion. It starts from the basics but is beautifully and concisely explained whilst still being exceptionally readable. It explains how to use your histogram and expose to the right. One point I gleaned from here was to always check your histogram in RGB mode and not just luminance mode as you may be clipping one of the individual channels which may not be visible in the luminance histogram. What I really like about this book is that there are practical examples given where the Gerlach’s show how they take their photographs. The Gerlach’s tend to shoot in manual mode, but other methods are covered fully too.

Chapter 5 is all about getting sharp images and covers lens use, lens selection, how and where to focus, apertures, ISO and shutters speeds. Hyperfocal focusing is explained too. They explain in detail how you can benefit from just selecting a single autofocus point to selectively focus on the right part of the scene, then recompose the scene to shoot. To avoid the camera re-focusing they use a method they call ‘back-button focusing’ whereby they have re-assigned (removed) the auto-focus capability from the shutter button to one of the buttons near the eye-piece. This can generally be achieved via one of the custom functions on Nikon and Canon cameras, but is something I’ve not come across before. Thus your shutter button just sets the exposure, and you use another to focus. Quite a novel method, but I achieve the same result by selectively focusing and then temporarily switching my lens to manual focus before recomposing the scene and shooting the frame.

Light & Composition

Chapters 6, 7  and 8 are about Light and Composition, with the former dealing with the qualities of light, when to shoot, polarizers, colour settings and white balance. Surprisingly the use of split neutral-density filters are only briefly touched upon and referred to as 'old-fashioned'  with the Gerlach's firmly in favour of the use of HDR techniques rather than split grads. To me this is an oversight as a set of grads is still an important part of any landscape photographers tool kit. Chapter 8 deals with shooting more unusual landscape subject such as shooting from boats and contains a good section on shooting waterfalls,  and covers Autumn colours and shooting in the snow.

HDR & Panoramas

Chapter 9 is devoted to HDR, something the Gerlachs's have embraced in their landscape photography, and it deals well with how to capture an array of images for HDR processing. For processing it only covers (the 2009 version) of Photomatix Pro, so if you use other software you are left feeling short. Some nice HDR landscapes accompany a written walk through of how to process your image but it is all pretty basic and most readers may be well advised to look elsewhere for in-depth HDR advice.

Likewise Chapter 9 touches on panoramas, with good basic advice on how to select, compose and shoot but only briefly mentions stitching software.


The Gerlach's possess some considerable photographic experience to pass on to the reader but this book is firmly pitched at the beginner/intermediate photographer who wants to take their photography onto the next level. All the best techniques are well explained and nicely presented and it would be hard not to benefit from reading this book. The emphasis is firmly on capturing good images in the field and in that it excels, but if it's post rocessing your looking for then look elsewhere.

Product Details

Paperback: 216 pages
Publisher: Focal Press (1 Sep 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0240810937
ISBN-13: 978-0240810935
Dimensions: 27.9 x 21.3 x 1.3 cm

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Putting in a little Effort

Blog - Dunstanburgh Sunrise (Nov 2007) 1029

I've just returned from an evening at my local photographic club where we were talking about various aspects of photography, noticeably new activities to get long term and new members to socialise more and activities to get us out doing more photography, which is after all what we are supposed to be doing. Unfortunately our club is a little too fixated with club competitions. At the beginning of each new season potential new recruits arrive hoping to learn more about photography, but sadly many are are scared off after a few meetings, probably by the lack of practical, hands-on advice and the heavy leaning towards these club competitions. It can all seem a little daunting to be honest and may appear rather cliquey to some new arrivals, as I remember when I joined some 5 years ago where I too had misgivings of lasting the course. Sadly, many new recruits disappear after a few meetings and are never to be seen again, but it shouldn't be that way.

Eventually our conversation arrived on the subject of getting out too take photographs and I was really surprised to learn how reluctant members were at the thought go getting up early to go out and shoot at sunrise, and their amazement at the few members that occasionally do. For me, a major part of landscape photography is all about catching a scene in the best light, so to not attempt any photography in those magic golden hours is surely sacrilege to our art?

I know that going out for a dawn shot is not always possible, practical or even perhaps the slightest bit desirable to some, but surely everyone interested in landscape photography should attempt 2 or 3 dawn shots a year. Is that too much to ask? I can almost guarantee it will pay dividends and you see an improvement in your photography. It can be inspirational, emotional and simply down right amazing, just to be in a location when the sun breaks the horizon and witness the dullest landscape transformed into something wonderful.

I've done reasonably well in my club competitions, but not because I'm particularly adept at my craft, there are other whom I deem are far better 'photographers' than I, but I do at least make an effort every once in a while to capture that magic light when it happens. I surprise to be asked if I colourise my photographs; I may boost vibrancy in my post processing, even push it a bit sometimes, but I can't add something that wasn't there already, that wasn't captured in the camera when that shutter clicked. You can accentuate something a little, as long as it's within reason, but try adding something that wasn't there to begin with and the results are never going to look truly natural, emotive or truthful to your art.

"No pain, No Gain"

I seldom go out specifically for a dawn shoot, so you may be surprised to find out that vast majority of my better landscape shots have been done whilst family holidays, typically our summer holiday in July or August which are not really considered the best time of year for landscape photography. It does results in me creeping out of our accommodation at some ungodly hour whilst the rest of my family slumbers on, blissfully unaware at what I'm up to. But you know, it pays rewards, it inspires me, gives me a sense of elation just to see nature in all it's glory in it's finest moment of the day, and if I get to capture that in my camera, then I return to the family at breakfast time with a huge grin on my face. The day has started well. It would be such a shame to travel to these lovely locations and not to make an effort to capture it in it’s best light.

We all take a holidays once in while, so why not plan to a dawn shoot on at least one occasion on your very next holiday. Make sure you know sunrise time and direction and have an up to date weather forecast, and if you are planning a coastal shoot, do find out the tide times. Check out the location the previous day if possible and note where you can park, the paths you your location, and lookout for potential tripod spots. Take your partner or a photographer buddy if possible, and make sure somebody else knows exactly where you are going. Make sure your batteries are charged, your filters cleaned, you have your mobile phone and a good flashlight with you. And last but not least get some great shots!

Blog - Spurn Head (Jan 2011) 1041

The autumn is here, the trees have turned, and although we get many wet, dreary, cloudy days, the autumn can also produce some of the most spectacular sunrises that we get here in the UK. What’s more, then dark mornings means that sunrise times have crept forward to more respectable times of the day, so the excuse of having to get out of bed at some ungodly hour no longer holds water. Half term is approaching and soon we’re off to the Lake District for a few days. I for one will be out early mornings to take advantage of the the sunrise, assuming of course the good old British weather is kind enough!

Go on give it a go, make the effort every once in a while.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Drobo Revisited

Well it’s taken just over 2 years, 2 years 1 month to be precise, but a red light appeared on the front of my Drobo indicating that one of my hard drives had failed. In case you didn’t know the Drobo is an external storage device that houses a number of SATA hard drives sold by Data Robotics Inc. They promote the Drobo as a fail safe back-up device for your precious data, photographs,

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Last Bite of the Apple - Steve Jobs (1955-2011)

I wouldn’t normally write anything like an obituary on a photography blog but I must admit I was quite shocked to her that Steve Jobs had died during the night. I am a user Apple products however, I have a MacBook Pro (on which I’m wringing this now), an iPad and have recently acquired an iPhone, my kids have iPods and my my wife has become a bit of an iPad junky, being hooked on eBooks ever since I bought her an iPad for her birthday last year. We’re fairly recent converts to the Apple world but I wouldn’t say in any way are hard-core Apple aficionados, however it’s hard to imagine our lives without Apple now and if you don’t have an iPhone the chances are you do have a smart phone that no doubt has been modelled on what the iPhone first brought to the market.

The thing that really brought this sad event home for me was how young Jobs was. He was only 56, just two years older than me, but in his brief 56 years he’s managed to leave such a huge footprint on the modern world. He’s hailed as a visionary and he certainly had an amazing knack of knowing what would work and what wouldn’t. Take the iPad, tablets had been tried and tested before and failed miserably, but the way Apple did the tablet was just so different and so innovative it has totally changed the way we see portable computing. Now every major computer company around the globe is developing a tablet device, every major news paper, TV channel has an App, and the ‘App’ has entered our daily lexicon.

Jobs took medical leave from Apple three times, underwent surgery in 2004 and received a liver transplant in 2009, but it was only in August this year when he resigned as the Apple CEO and handed over the reins to Timothy Cook. We all knew about Jobs illness but I’m quite shocked at how little time he actually had left. Watching clips of his last Apple keynote speech on the TV this morning I realise just how thin and gaunt he looked then but he still possessed that charisma and enthusiasm in presenting the latest Apple innovations in a way in which nobody else can do. He will be a hard act to follow indeed.

Jobs certainly had his detractors and a reputation of being a real tough cookie at times. You did things the Jobs way or not at all, but with that went the Midas touch. Apple drive hard bargains too, 30% of all App purchases downloaded from the iTunes go to Apple, a big margin these days and one that the some of the newspaper publishers have found hard to swallow with several electing to go their own way. There is also that Apple arrogance too that many hate; it’s the Apple way or not at all. Look at their adamant refusal to incorporate Adobe Flash technology into iOS, their operation system on the iPhone and iPad, a technology that is already present on around 70% of the worlds website.

So what will happen to Apple now the have lost their visionary and creative leader? I can’t help but wonder. Is he irreplaceable? Undoubtedly so. Just take a look at Microsoft since Bill Gates stepped down; they have wandered aimlessly, rudderless and are now a long distant second to Apple and seemingly still in dependency. Can Apple survive? Certainly so, but can they continue to innovate and lead? I think they probably will for some time to come. Jobs legacy will continue for sometime yet.

I can still remember a day back in 1984, in an office in Sacramento, California, where I then worked as computer programmer. A large group of the company employees were all huddled around a small desk. Upon it sat one of the first Apple Macintosh computers. We’d seen nothing like it before, a windowed, graphics based, operating system, and this weird cursor-cum-pointing device … a mouse. We were all absolutely amazed at the time, now these devices are things we just take for granted and are apart of of our everyday lives.

Thank you Mr. Jobs. Rest in peace.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...