Photographing in a Zoo

Unfortunately, photographing in a zoo has a negative connotation for many photographers. While there is a question of ethics involved (see box), be assured that there is absolutely nothing wrong photographing animals and birds in a zoo. If you take proper care (read on for this) you can get photographs of wild animals and birds which look as if they are in their natural habitat. A zoo is the only place where you can have access to photograph, in relative comfort, a wide variety of animals and yes, exotic birds in one location conveniently. It is also an ideal place to perfect your skills before you embark on that once in a life time photo safari trip to Africa.

Though the behavior of animals is undoubtedly very different in the wild compared to how they behave in captivity, a zoo is still a great place to hone your skills in handling telephoto lenses. It will also help you to improve your reflexes and teaches you the most important virtue of photography – patience.
A few basic rules that you should follow in the zoo
1.       Remember that a Zoo is a public place and several visitors will be there along with you. They have as much right as you have to enjoy a visit to the zoo. It is necessary that your photography causes least amount of inconvenience to others.
2.       Do not disturb animals by offering food or throwing things at them to attract their attention.
3.       A strict no – no is teasing animals. Please do not irritate animals under any circumstances just to get a photograph.
4.       Strictly obey the rules that are in force in the zoo.
5.       Most importantly do not get yourself in harm’s way by doing things like sticking a lens or putting your hand through a fence or wire-mesh, entering into a moat, etc. It is always safety first.
Open and Closed Zoos: Earlier most animals were caged and hence were difficult to photograph. Also, the surroundings would be very unnatural. Modern zoos however, have open animal pens and these allow much easier access to photography and also present a much better environment. Still, there are few precautions that you need to take as you will see shortly.
Safaris: Many zoos offer what are called safaris where you are taken around in a closed vehicle into an area where the wild life is roaming unrestricted. While in concept this is excellent, it provides few good opportunities for photography. The first is that you are severely constrained in a vehicle and since you are not in control, where to stop and for how long is not in your hands. While you can give safaris a try, I am inclined to say that they are not the best for photography.
Aviaries: All zoos have aviaries with varying degree of photographic access to birds. Most of these restrict you to stand outside the enclosure and take photographs. This can rob you of some good opportunities as you will be quite far if the enclosure is very large. However, modern aviaries have huge enclosures (some several hundred feet in height), where you can go inside and then photograph birds which are quite freely flying inside. This will give you many more opportunities to capture some “bird in flight images” as well as allow you to get close up photographs of the birds. The latter is very difficult in the open unless you have telephoto lenses with more than 500mm in focal length or take the trouble of building a blind and wait patiently.
Special factors to consider when photographing in the zoo:
Avoiding wire-mesh: Most birds and some of the animals (unless it is a totally open zoo) will be behind wire-mesh. This is really not a problem though it might seem so. Just keep your telephoto lens touching the wire-mesh (conditions permitting). The wire-mesh will simply not appear in the final picture. If you are using an autofocus camera, just make sure that the camera does not focus on the wire-mesh. Use a lens hood to prevent lens from getting scratched and damaged by the wire-mesh. A rubber lens hood is preferable here as it will not get damaged when touching the wire-mesh.
Another problem you will often face is the light reflecting from the wire-mesh most of which are quite reflective.   A hood is again the solution as when kept close to the wire-mesh, it blocks unwanted light that is being reflected from the wire-mesh from being captured.
People: A zoo is a public place and will be full of people who have as much right as you have to see the animals. Though you can politely ask them to move a bit if they are standing between your camera and the animal, this is always not possible. Be a little patient till they move on by themselves. A more serious problem is when they appear in the image (mostly in the background). This will definitely give the photograph “taken in the zoo” label instantly! Here, either you have to wait till they move away or follow a few techniques which are described in the next section.
Distracting and manmade objects: The most bothersome issue while photographing in the zoo are the manmade objects that may appear in the background. If this happens, change your position and angle so that they do not appear in the photograph. If this is not possible try to throw them out of focus by using a larger aperture (small f number).
Keeping an eye on the background to eliminate unwanted clutter and objects is a good practice, whenever or whatever you are photographing as, in the excitement, we tend to concentrate on the subject and ignore the background. A bad background can ruin an otherwise excellent photograph.
Techniques when shooting with telephoto lenses to get that sharp image:
While handling and use of telephoto lenses was dealt extensively earlier (see “Basics of Photography” – Smart Photography, Nov, 2010 issue) here is a quick recap to help you to get sharp images.
You must have read the thumb rule that when handholding a telephoto lens, you should use a shutter speed of 1/focal length or faster. That is, if you are using a 200 mm lens then you should use a shutter speed of 1/200 sec or faster. However, this guideline was framed for the 35 mm format.  Now that we have digital cameras with sensors of various sizes, the thumb rule should be modified as – shutter speed should be at least 1/ (35 mm equivalent focal length). So if you are using a 200 mm lens on an APS-C format DSLR, you should use a shutter speed of at least 1/300 sec. Remember this is just a rule of thumb. You can photograph at slower speeds if you practice. This is where trips to the zoo can come in handy in improving your skills.
Using a monopod can give you up to a two stop shutter speed advantage. That is, instead of using a speed of 1/250 sec, you will be able to manage with 1/60 sec. Again practice will help you improve on this. When using a monopod keep both your legs slightly apart and lean forward on the monopod while inclining the monopod towards you. This means that your two legs along with the monopod will from a sort of a tripod. Just make sure not to put too much weight on the monopod.
Zoo enclosures are mostly shaded and hence the light levels will be low. Plus you will need fast shutter speeds as just explained. Mostly lenses with focal lengths of 300mm and more will be slow (f/5.6 or slower unless you want to spend huge sums of money) aggravating the problem. Fortunately, most new DSLR cameras have superb high ISO performance (you can go well over ISO rating of 1000) and still get excellent picture quality. So, don’t hesitate to exploit this feature. However, it is always best to keep the ISO to the minimum value that gives you the shutter speed you want for the best image quality. Auto ISO feature present in most modern DSLRs automatically takes care of this – that is depending on the light, the camera will automatically set the minimum ISO that is needed to get the shutter speed you selected. Check your camera manual as this is an often neglected feature that works wonders!
If you are photographing hand held, keep your two feet slightly apart with left foot slightly forward. The elbows should be close to each other. The right hand should hold the camera and the left hand should be under the lens supporting it. Since most tele lenses are heavy, supporting them with your left hand also has the additional benefit of relieving the stress on the camera mount.
Inhale fully, exhale a little bit and press the shutter release gently.
Bracing also helps. If you have a nearby tree or a pole, leaning against it will steady the camera.
A few more tips:
 
·         Be on the lookout for antics by animals as they make humorous photographs. Animals can also be very expressive and capturing these expressions can give you everlasting memories.
·         Use fill flash to open up shadows and to add a touch of catch light (sparkle) in the eyes of the animals as otherwise the eyes, which are normally the center of attraction, will look dull and life less. In worst case they could look like empty dark sockets. Your camera’s built in flash can do this job as you don’t need a very powerful flash for this purpose. However, make sure that the flash is not reflecting off the wire-mesh. If this is happening you need to use an off camera flash.
·         Don’t go to a zoo on holidays to photograph. It will be full of people who can be distracting and also cause hindrance when you are photographing.
·         Look out for expression of people especially children who are often fascinated by the animals and as a result put out some very nice expressions. These can give you excellent candid pictures.
What you will need:
 
Camera: A D-SLR or a bridge (prosumer) digital camera. If you are using the latter
be aware of the slow shutter release response and slow auto focus.
Lens: You need a lens of focal length of at least 300 mm (35 mm equivalent) or
more. This means you can use a D-SLR with a lens of at least 200 mm focal
length (assuming your SLR is using an APS-C sized sensor which has a cropping
factor of around 1.5). This gives the same angle of view as a 300mm lens on a 35
mm camera.
If you are using a bridge (prosumer) digital camera, use one that has a lens that
gives you angle of view of a 300mm on a 35mm camera.
A tripod or a monopod: One of these is always recommended when using
telephoto lenses, preferably the former for absolute stability and sharpness of
image. However, a zoo is a public place and a tripod can cause problems for
others. So, a monopod would be a better solution in a zoo. It is a lot less
cumbersome too. If you have neither of these, Smart Photography, has a low cost
solution for you (see box “Make your own stabilized lens!).
All the pictures shown in this article were taken in a zoo. Note that in all cases
careful attention was paid to the background so that the animals and birds look as
if they have been photographed in their natural habitat. The Author is a strong
believer that photography must be fun. So, plan a one day trip to the zoo with your
family to make it a photo trip plus a picnic. That will involve your family in your
favorite hobby and might just get your spouse agree to the purchase of that fabulous stabilized lens you always wanted to buy!

Aquarium Photography

Everywhere nature photographers take millions of pictures of birds, animals, insects, flowers, etc., but relatively neglect one of the most fascinating subjects of nature – fish and other marine creatures. Part of the reason could be that you would need expensive and specialized equipment like underwater housings and strobes which are not easily available in our country. Plus of course you need to know snorkeling or scuba diving.

However, there is a way out. You can easily photograph these beautiful and fascinating subjects with very little specialized equipment if you have access to an aquarium. This article explains in simple terms the technique needed to photograph fish and other creatures in an aquarium along with the equipment needed. Call it terrestrial underwater photography if you want!
There are two types of aquariums that are available to you – home aquariums that are kept at homes and public aquariums which are accessible to public. Photographing home aquariums is more convenient since the control of various factors like lighting is easier than in a public place. This article concentrates on taking pictures of a home aquarium but the differences in photographing a public aquarium will be brought out wherever relevant.
So how do you go about it? Let us go step by step.
Choosing an aquarium: If you have a choice, choose an aquarium with tastefully arranged rocks and plants as photographs taken of such aquariums will look natural. Bare aquariums with just the fish and nothing else present few or no opportunities for good images.
Preparation: As with anything in photography preparation is the key to success. First ensure that the ambient light in the room is kept at an absolute minimum to avoid reflections from the front panel of the aquarium through which the photographs will be taken. Wear dark colored clothes as these will further reduce reflections.
If accessible, cover the backside of aquarium with black or deep blue non-reflecting paper or cloth to give a uniform uncluttered background.
Lighting: Next is the important question of lighting. Most aquariums have lights at the top. This lighting is however insufficient to allow the use of a fast shutter speed that is essential to freeze the moving subjects even with high ISO settings. Hence the best solution is to use a light source in the form of an electronic flash or studio strobe.
Your camera’s built in flash is quite useless as it will cause reflections. You need to keep the flash off the camera. This necessitates that you trigger the flash strobe remotely. You can do this with a cord (PC or a dedicated TTL cord) that connects the camera to the flash. Just make sure that you don’t trip over these cords in the dark! A better way is to use wireless triggers. These are implemented using infrared (IR) or wireless technology. Here you need to keep a transmitter on the camera accessory shoe and connect a receiver to the flash. A signal is sent by the transmitter when you press the shutter release. The receiver gets this signal and fires the flash. Modern DSLRs (most Nikon D-SLRs, Canon 7D, 60D, etc.) can also trigger dedicated flashes wirelessly, with help of their built-in flashes. If this feature is available on your D-SLR, then you should use it since it costs you nothing (provided you have a dedicated flash) and will save you a lot of hassles.
Keep the flash at the top of the aquarium (above water) pointing it downwards with the flash head parallel to the surface of the water. This is the best way to get proper lighting. The water scatters the light a lot and this will help in illuminating the aquarium uniformly.
If there is no access to the top of the aquarium (which is the case with public aquariums), keep the flash on a cord but hold it slightly to the top and left of the picture frame (area that is being photographed), pointing downwards and touching the glass to avoid reflections.
In both cases cover the flash head with a suitable diffuser like tracing paper (or built in diffuser) to soften the light. You can use a soft box if you are using a studio strobe. Whichever technique you may choose make sure that the light is well diffused as otherwise you may get hot spots.
Don’t make the mistake that most visitors to aquariums seem to make, that is to take out the camera and press the shutter release without thinking. This will most probably activate the built in flash and what the visitors will get is a nice picture of the light from flash reflecting from the aquarium front panel!
Exposure: Since the lighting does not change (unless you move the lights or camera), set the camera exposure mode to manual and the shutter speed to the fastest sync speed that the camera supports. Called the X-Sync, this is normally in the range of 1/100 sec to 1/250 sec. Check your camera manual for the exact figure. If you use slow shutter speeds, the movement of the creatures may get recorded as ghost images due to any ambient light that may be present. You can keep the aperture around f11 for adequate depth of field (DOF).
While you can use automatic flash control, it is best to use the manual mode (as just mentioned) and fix the exposure using the highlight warning and histogram tools that your camera offers. You will need to do some experimentation to find out the correct exposure. However, this is not difficult as you can nail the exposure with a few test images using the two tools mentioned. Here is the brief procedure.
·         Mount the camera on a tripod
·         Set the camera to X-Sync (your camera’s fastest sync speed)
·         Set aperture to f/11
·         Set ISO to the lowest base level (this is normally 100 or 200)
·         Set up the light as shown
·         Take a test image
·         Check the highlight warning. If there is a warning in the form of “blinkies” close the aperture to f/16 and take another test image
·         If you still get blinkies, do not go for a higher f number as it will cause diffraction. Instead reduce the power of the flash. If this is not possible for whatever reason, reduce the ISO.
·         If both these are not possible reduce the aperture further (set to higher f number).
·         Now make sure that the histogram does not touch either of the vertical axes. If the histogram is touching the left axis then increase the exposure. Likewise reduce the exposure if it is touching the right axis.
·         Keep taking test images whenever you change any settings.
·         In summary, keep the shutter speed at X-Sync, aperture around f/11 or f/16 and vary flash intensity and ISO (if needed) to get the right exposure. That is all there is to it!
Tip: Don’t set the exposure based on the tone of picture as it appears on the LCD monitor as this will not yield accurate results. Use the highlight warning and histogram tools as just explained.
Camera: While any digital camera can be used, a D-SLR is by far the best choice. You can try a point and shoot or a bridge camera so long as you understand their limitations like shutter lag, lack of manual focus, inability to trigger flashes, etc.
Lens: The choice of lens depends on what you want to photograph. If you want the photograph to include a few creatures plus a bit of back ground, then a moderate wide angle or a normal lens can be used. For most cases the standard kit lens supplied with most D-SLRs will be more than enough. A macro lens would be needed only if you are photographing fish or other creatures less than 10cm long.
Focusing: To start with, avoid auto focusing as it is difficult in an aquarium due to the low light and the transparent panel that will be between the camera and the subject. You will also not be able to use the AF assist light as it will reflect from the front panel. Instead, mount the camera on a tripod and pre-focus at a plane in the aquarium at which the subject is likely to appear (about at an inch or two behind the front glass). To find out the plane of focus, a flat object like a ruler can be immersed and the camera can be focused on it. Once this is done, you must put the camera in manual focus mode. Using a small aperture (f/11 to f/16 as you have just read) will ensure adequate DOF and thus will eliminate any errors in focusing.
Keep a small table lamp on the side when you are photographing home aquariums. This will give a little illumination to see the subject and to help you focus initially. Otherwise brighter ambient light will be required, raising the possibility of reflections off the front glass. Since you will be using a high shutter speed and a narrow aperture, this light will be insignificant compared to what is being given out by the flash and hence will not affect your exposure or white balance.

 

Tip:If possible place a clean sheet of glass (more or less the same width as the aquarium), into the water (parallel to the front glass) and bring it closer to the camera side so that the fish does not get a chance to swim away from the zone of DOF.
Positioning the camera: First make sure that the front element of the lens is parallel to the aquarium front glass through which the photograph will be taken.
This is necessary since though most home aquariums are made of glass, public aquariums often use “Plexiglas” and this is thicker than glass. This thickness can cause distortion in the image if the lens is at an angle to the front panel of the aquarium.
If the aquarium is deep or if you want to take close ups, then you may have to keep the camera lens touching the front glass. While this may not be difficult in the case of home aquariums, public aquariums generally will not allow keeping camera that close as it could scratch the surface. Using a rubber lens hood will definitely help you in this case as they prevent scratching. Another advantage of hoods is that they eliminate reflections when they are touching the front panel.
Camera Settings: Marine life is very colorful. Hence, you will get attractive images when saturation levels are high. Because of this you may be tempted to set saturation as well as contrast and sharpness to high values in the camera. Avoid this as these three parameters can be enhanced easily but cannot be reduced easily during post processing. Setting these to high values may result in loss of detail and may give rise to unnecessary artifacts. Hence, set them to minimum values and later enhance them in post processing. Adjust them to high values only if you do not intend to do any post processing.
Getting ready: First mount your camera on a tripod. Now, mark the field of view as seen through the lens, on the front panel of the aquarium with a glass pencil. This is simpler than it sounds but you need someone to help you. Just ask your helper to mark on the glass the edges (boundaries) that are visible while you are looking through the viewfinder. Needless to say if you alter the focal length either by changing the lens or by zooming (in the case of zoom lens) the boundaries have to be re-marked. Same is the case if you change the position of the camera. Though this sounds cumbersome this will result in a far easier process, as you will read shortly.
The picture taking procedure: If you have come this far, the rest is simple and easy! With this set up, keep looking for the instant when the subject appears in the frame that has been marked. Now, release the shutter (through a cable or any other remote release) when the subject is at the approximate pre-focused plane at the right compositional position. This needs quick reflexes. However, you need not be looking through the viewfinder at all when you actually take the picture!
When taking close ups you can use the same technique, but reflexes (for releasing the shutter) need to be faster since magnification is higher and hence the subject will appear to move faster. This, as everything else in photography can be improved with practice.
Photographing in a public aquarium: While the general photographic techniques are same for either home or public aquariums, there are a few differences that you have to consider.
First, you will not be able to set up lights as you would like to. Setting up studio strobes may not be possible at all unless you take prior permission. Many public aquariums do not allow any type of flash at all since it could be harmful to the eyes of the marine creatures. Even if flash is allowed, you will not have access to the top of the aquarium as you would in a home aquarium. In this case place the flash as already explained. Also, many aquariums may not allow you to use a tripod. Once a tripod is not allowed, marking the field of view on the front panel has no relevance at all.
Under these circumstances, you can only rely on the lighting in the tanks. Fortunately, public aquariums are better lit than home aquariums and this will help you to hand hold the camera. You can use aperture priority exposure mode as you might not have the time to set exposure manually. You may not be able to use small apertures due to the less light available. Start with around f/5.6 or f/8 and crank up ISO as high as needed to get a shutter speed sufficient for safe handholding. If your camera or lens has some sort of image stabilization, then turn that on. A fast lens will also help.
Generally there will be less reflections due to the bright lights in the tanks and lower ambient light in public aquariums. Hence, your camera’s autofocus (AF) can work too. Experiment and decide whether you want to use AF or not. However, the use of AF assist light is definitely a no-no since it will reflect from the front panel.
Aquarium guards may also not allow you to keep the camera touching the front panel even if you have a rubber hood. Before you do anything please check the rules of the aquarium and make sure that you do not violate them under any circumstances.
A few more precautions that you need to take:
·         Fish, believe it or not, are aware of human presence especially if you are close to the aquarium. They will take some time to get accustomed to that. Avoid jerky and sudden movements when you are near the aquarium as these will spook the fish.
·         Make sure that the front panel is very clean inside and out as you will be photographing through it. Clean and filter the water so that there are no floating particles in the water, as the flash will illuminate these, causing them to appear as bright speckles in the image. These two points are very important.
·         Important: Under any circumstances please do not dip or drop your flash or strobe in the aquarium. These, as you know have high voltage inside them and can cause severe injuries to the fish or even worse, to you!
Here is the list of the equipment that you need:
·         D-SLR
·         Standard wide to medium telephoto zoom with macro feature or a moderate wide angle lens or a macro lens (depending on what you want to photograph)
·         Rubber lens hood
·         Shoe mount flash or studio strobe with a proper diffuser
·         PC cord or TTL flash sync cord or wireless transmitter/receiver or a D-SLR with built-in triggering feature for facilitating off-camera flash
·         Tripod
·         Cable release or any other remote release
·         Black or deep blue paper or cloth
·         Glass pencil
·         Ruler
 
Conclusion: Marine creatures, especially fish move constantly and hence are fairly  tricky subjects. Hence, it may take some time before the subject to be photographed comes to the right position (for correct focus as well as proper composition). Remember that the most important virtue that an aquarium (or any) photographer needs to have is patience. It may take hours before the right moment occurs. The next most important thing is practice as this improves reflexes. Do not get frustrated if the first session of aquarium photography does not yield good results. Practicing a few more times will definitely yield truly beautiful pictures.

The one good thing about aquarium photography is that it does not depend on weather. So, with summer in full swing soon to be followed by the monsoon, this could be an ideal subject when it is too hot or is rainy to go outdoors for photography!

Photographing Landscapes, Cityscapes and Seascapes (Part III)

Important accessories for landscape photography: There are only a few more accessories that you may need. These are neutral density (ND), graduated neutral density (Grad ND) and polarizing filters.  

Neutral Density (ND) Filters: These are color-less filters (they look grayish) that reduce the intensity of light entering the lens. ND filter must be truly color less. That is, they should only cut light but not introduce any color casts. Note that the effect of a ND filter cannot be duplicated with editing software. Also, an ND filter cuts the light entering the lens and hence has no effect on DOF. ND filters are available in different densities (strengths) like 1, 2, 3, 6 and 10 stops. For example a 2 stop ND filter slows down the shutter speed by two stops.
Tip: Everyone likes to photograph waves, water falls, rivers and streams. While you can photograph these with fast shutter speeds freezing the water (in time), they look a lot more artistic and beautiful when photographed with a slow shutter speed so that you can get that smooth silky rendering of flowing water. Suppose you need a shutter speed of say two full seconds for this purpose. On a bright day, you will not be able get a shutter speed that slow, even if you use the smallest aperture and the lowest ISO value possible. Using the ND filter is the only way to get such long shutter speeds. Of course you will need a tripod too. Use the following guide for shutter speeds as a starting point – waterfalls 1/4 sec, streams ½ sec and waves 1 sec. You can of course try slower shutter speeds for a more silky effect. Faster shutter speeds than these will not give you that effect.
 
Graduated Neutral Density (Grad ND) Filters: Using these will not make you a graduate in landscape photography! However, they will definitely solve a serious problem you will be encountering frequently.
The brightness range of landscapes can easily exceed that of your camera. This means that if you expose for the highlights then the shadows will be rendered detail less. If you try the opposite that is to get detail in shadows, then highlights will get blown out and will appear as detail less white patches. An easy way to overcome this is to simply use a Grad ND filter. These are manufactured in such a way that a part of the filter is neutral colorless gray and the other part is clear. There is a transition region between these two which can be sharp (hard edged) or soft (feather edged). The former is useful when horizon is flat, like in a scene with plains or a sea. The latter is useful if the horizon is jagged with mountains or trees. The second one is more commonly used as it provides a progressive transition and hence looks more natural.
Tip: Both hard and soft edged filters come in several strengths. The popular ones being one and two stop. A two stop filter is needed if the sun is front of you. Otherwise you can use a one stop filter.
Grad ND filters are available in circular or rectangular shape. The rectangular type Grad ND filters can be moved up or down in a holder so that the transition can be moved up or down to align with the horizon of the scene you are photographing. (The most popular holders are made by a company called Cokin).  This flexibility is not available in a circular Grad ND filter as the transition is always fixed at the middle – exactly where you should not keep the horizon for a good composition! Hence do not buy such filters. Also filters mounted in holders can be rotated 90° so that they can be used in portrait (vertical) and landscape (horizontal) orientations.
 
Polarizing Filters: These are very popular with landscape photographers. In fact the saying is that if a landscape photographer has to carry just one filter, then it should be the polarizing filter. Compared to all other filters polarizing filters are constructed in a different way. There is a circular metal ring like in any other filter that screws on to the lens but the glass part of the filter is not fixed onto this. It is fixed in an inner ring which rotates within the outer ring.
So, how does a polarizing filter work and how does it help landscape photographers? All light reflected from non-metallic surfaces get polarized, that is it vibrates only in one plane. The polarizing filter has optical characteristics such that it will allow passage of light polarized only in one plane. You can change this plane by rotating the inner ring and thus choose a position such that the plane of reflected light is at right angles to the plane of passage through the filter. This blocks the reflected light from reaching the sensor thus eliminating reflections. This operation is not as complicated as it sounds as you can see this effect very easily in the viewfinder of a D-SLR as you rotate the polarizer. Polarizing filters generally reduce light by about 1.5 stops and can also be used like an ordinary neutral density filter too.
 
For a landscape photographer, the most important use of a polarizing filter is that it darkens the skies dramatically under certain conditions. On a clear day a lot of light is polarized due to reflections from particles in the air. By using the polarizer and pointing the camera in the right direction, you can block the polarized light from the sky and get a very deep blue sky. Note that this effect is not possible on cloudy days where the light is scattered in all directions making the polarizing filter ineffective.
So, how do you find out the exact area where the effect (called the polarized band) is at its maximum? This is rather simple. First see the diagram which indicates where the polarizing band is. It is at right angles to the sun. Make a right angle between your fore-finger and thumb and point your thumb at the sun. Now, if you move your forefinger by the movement of your wrist, the forefinger will make an arc which indicates the polarized band. You can see that when sun is low the band will be upwards and when the sun is right above, the band will be close to the horizon.
If you photographing a scene in sunny conditions, foliage can reflect light and reduce contrast. Likewise water can reflect light. In these cases a simple twist of the polarizing filter can eliminate the problem very effectively.
 
There are two types of polarizing filters called linear and circular. Note that the terms circular and linear do not refer to the shape of the filters as both are circular! These words refer to the way they polarize light. Just remember to use only circular polarizing filters with all modern cameras. Using a linear polarizing filter on your camera will not damage it but your camera’s meter and autofocus may not function properly.
Polarizing filters are generally the most expensive of all filters. Also, remember that all polarizing filters are not created equal. Since a polarizing filter lasts your lifetime, do not compromise on quality. Finally, can you simulate the effect of a polarizing filter with editing software at the post processing stage? A few of the effects like darkening the sky can perhaps be done but removing reflections from a foliage or water is very difficult, if not downright impossible. This is the reason why many photographers still use polarizing filters even in the digital era!
One of the disadvantages of P&S cameras is the difficulty in using filters since they do not have threads on their lenses for fixing filters. The well known filter maker Cokin is now making an adapter which allows you to mount filters on P&S cameras.
Tip:You can buy what are called variable ND filters. These have a ring which when rotated causes the density to continuously vary from two to 10 stops. These are handy but are very expensive. However, you can make one. You just need to have two polarizing filters (one linear and once circular) one on top of the other. By rotating the two rings you can get a ND filter of any density you want.
Polarizing and Grad ND filters are an essential part of a landscape photographer’s camera kit. Both these darken skies but are used best suited for different situations. Polarizing filters are most useful on clear sunny days. Grad ND filters work very well on cloudy days. Under these conditions, polarizing filters are ineffective. However, polarizing filters can suppress reflections something  - that no other filter can do.
Solutions to Common Problems:  Here are some challenges that you are likely to encounter while photographing   landscapes along with their possible solutions.
 
Inclined horizons: Also called “crooked” or “mis-aligned” horizons, these occur when you do not keep the camera perfectly level. Though at times they can go unnoticed, they look especially   ugly when you are photographing landscapes that have horizons that are flat, for e.g. water bodies. The same problem will also be visible as inclined buildings. That is, buildings will have sides leaning to one side instead of being vertical.
The solution is simple enough – just hold the camera level, but that is easier said than done. This is because an eye can detect if the horizon is tilted by even less than a degree.
There are a few aids that can make this job easier for you. A spirit (or bubble) level is one such aid. These are quite economical and will do an excellent job when used carefully. While the principle of operation is same as that of a masonry level, those meant for photography come with a provision to slide the level in your camera’s accessory shoe. Some modern cameras have built in electronic levels. Of course it goes without saying that you have to mount your camera on a tripod to use the level properly.
Some cameras (e.g. most Nikon D-SLRs, Canon 7D, etc.) offer a switchable graph (called grid lines) in the viewfinder. Alternatively, high end professional D-SLR cameras offer interchangeable focusing screens. Here you will be able to get an optional focusing screen with grid lines (often called an “architectural” screen). Whichever feature your camera may have, grid lines are very helpful in leveling your camera.
If you did end up with a photograph that is a result of poorly leveled camera for whatever reason there is still hope. This error can be very easily corrected by most editing packages during post processing. However, remember when you rotate the photograph to correct the poor leveling you will need to trim a portion of the image to make it into a proper rectangle. This means that you are throwing away some pixels - not a smart thing to do in landscape photography where you need to get maximum details. Remember, more the leveling error, more the pixels you need to discard. So, use this only as a last resort fix.
Exposure:  Landscapes means you are photographing large areas. This often means that you are   in a situation where a part of the scene is under bright sun and a part is in shade. The result is a high contrast scene whose brightness range exceeds that of the dynamic range of your camera. The latter is around 5 stops though better cameras have a greater range. So how do you handle this? First, switch on the spot meter of your camera and then measure the brightness range of the scene. (See Smart Photography, Basics of Photography, July ’09, issue for an exhaustive coverage of this subject). If you find that the brightness range is exceeding the camera’s dynamic range you can do one or more of the following:
First try these few simple techniques.  These may not be always possible, but they cost nothing to try.
·         Re-compose: Change your framing so that extremely bright or dark parts are out of the scene. If this is not possible you can at least see that they occupy as less area as possible so that they do not dominate.
·         Change your position: Many times reflections (from water, foliage, etc.) can be eliminated by changing your position.
·         Wait for the light to change: Bright sunlight can cause harsh dark shadows. If this is the case wait till you get some cloud cover to reduce the contrast.
If these don’t work, depending on the situation there are several techniques available. The following is a table of a few solutions. All aim to reduce or compress the brightness range but employ completely different processes.
 
Foreground subjects in shadows: In landscape photography you will often encounter a situation where there are some foreground objects close by (say some rocks) that are in shadow. All that is needed to brighten them up and bring out the details is a pop of flash.  
This technique is called “fill flash” and is the name given when flash is used in daylight. Consequently its purpose is not to act as the main source of light but to supplement the daylight to brighten shadows. By providing light in shadowed areas, fill flash reduces the overall contrast.
Though you may find it surprising, flash which only has a limited range can really help in landscape photography. Just don’t ask it to do the impossible, like brighten up a valley that is under a shadow!
The amount of light needed for fill flash is actually very small and your camera’s built in flash will also be adequate many times. If your D-SLR has variable flash control you have to set it to something like, for example, 1/16 of full power or about -1.7 EV compensation (in auto modes). Experiment a bit to get what you like. Landscapes are stationary. So take your time!
Problems when using polarizing filters: The polarizing band and hence, the amount of polarization too varies across a wide expanse of sky. This is visible even to the naked eye in the form of uneven distribution of blue color meaning that parts of the sky will be deeper in color. When you are using a polarizing filter this effect is exaggerated. Due to this, it is better if you avoid the use of polarizing filters along with very wide angle lenses as they cover a large area. If you are forced to use one for whatever reason, take two photographs, with and without a polarizing filter as insurance.
Seascapes: These are similar in concept to landscapes but depict sea. One way to capture seascapes is, as you read, is to use a slow shutter speed (from a full second to a few seconds) to give a smoothened out appearance to the sea. This gives a rendering that a naked human eye can never see.
Seascapes at times can have an element of dynamism that is absent in a landscape. This comes about due to the motion of the waves. In this case use a fast shutter speed to capture the waves as they splash against an object like a rock.
Cityscapes: The biggest hindrance to landscape photography these days is not the cost of the equipment. It is just the time that is needed to get away from home to a place where you have access to some good landscapes. With cities expanding rapidly this is becoming a tough task. If you have time or travel constraints, the author suggests that you try photographing cityscapes which are closer home.
Cityscapes that depict skylines with tall buildings (skyscrapers) are a popular subject for photographers. The best time for photographing cityscapes is during or little after the dusk when lights inside the buildings are switched on and there is enough light in the sky to show the outside form of the buildings. The sky also will record in a very attractive deep blue color. If it gets any darker, the lights will appear as disembodied point light sources (as the shape of  building will not be visible) unless the building is itself is lit up from outside. The general techniques are same as used in general landscape photography just described. However, a tripod is a must as you will be using slow shutter speeds due to the low light levels. One tricky aspect that you need to take care is the exposure. Normally during dusk, the camera metering reading will set a reasonably correct value. However, for sake of safety it is best that you bracket with at least one stop on either side with 1/3 to ½ stop as the bracketing step (interval). Use RAW format in case your camera supports it. This will allow more latitude in exposure and also white balance can be tweaked easily. Make sure that there is no bright light (like a street lamp) close by as this may unduly influence the metering.
Conclusion: Landscapes along with seascapes and cityscapes are among the most commonly photographed subjects. Just about any camera with a moderate wide angle lens along with a good tripod is all that you need to take excellent landscapes. Of course you cannot photograph landscapes sitting at home as you need to go out scouting for them. Those who are in cities can try cityscapes. You can attempt seascapes whenever you are at a coastal location.

Now that you have seen how easily you can start this genre of photography you should go out and give it a try. You can be sure that you can get images that you can be proud to show off. However, expect to do some hard work before that!

Photographing Landscapes, Cityscapes and Seascapes (Part II)

3. Light:   Photography means drawing with light and hence as you would expect light has a major impact on all types of photography. Landscape photography is no exception to this. While there will be enough light for quite a few hours during the day, all the times are not ideal for landscape photography. To understand this in depth, consider the fact that light has three important characteristics – direction, quality and color.

Have a look at the table below to understand how the direction of light influences a landscape.
The quality of light is generally defined in terms of the type of shadows it produces. Hard inky shadows are characteristic of light from a point source (for example, sun on a clear day). The general result is a high contrast scene that you will need to handle carefully. You get diffused light that is characterized by shadows that have soft edges when there is cloud cover and also before sunrise and after sunset. A foggy day also produces diffused light. While it is a matter of taste, highly diffused light can cause flat images since most of the drama is lost without shadows. Colors are muted. No texture is revealed and form is not emphasized. That said many great landscapes have been produced in foggy conditions.
The last characteristic of light is color. Called color temperature and measured in Kelvin, it is cool (bluish) under sunny conditions. It is even cooler in shade and on cloudy days. On the other hand light gets warmer in color (orange and reddish) during the times of early mornings and late evenings and has a more dramatic effect.
Tip: Never call it a day and pack your camera bag as soon as the sun sets! Often beautiful colors appear just after the sunset. Since the light levels will be low, you need to take the help of your three legged friend (tripod) but you will be rewarded with some stunning images!
4. Composition:  Consider this. When you leaf through a magazine or see images on your computer, you will notice that you spend more time seeing certain images and less time with some. The ones that you are spending more time are those that are pleasing to the eye. If nothing in the picture is holding your attention, then you flip to the next image quickly as it did not “catch” your eye. Hence, a characteristic of a good composition is to make your eye linger within the frame, as an eye can explore and enjoy the image only when it spends time. A well composed picture will also make your eye move within the picture in an orderly fashion. Random (that is aimless) movement of your eye conversely means a poorly composed image where the photographer has failed to present things in a coherent way. If this is what composition does, what is it to start with?
Here is one definition –
“An artistic arrangement of the parts of an image so as to form a harmonious picture on the whole”
The first step is to have a clear idea on what you want to convey so that all the elements or parts of the image contribute to that idea with the help of their placements (locations). So the natural question is, how do you arrange a mountain at a place where you want it? After all you cannot move it! Actually, you can in a way, by changing your position. You can move sideways, front and back, up and down, choose a different focal length and so on. You will be surprised that even a small change in your position can sometimes change a mediocre composition to something very good! There are a few generally accepted guidelines for creating a good composition. Remember that these are guidelines and not rules. Feel free to deviate from them when you feel so or if the situation demands.
Subject and its placement: The most fundamental guideline is that every image should have a dominant (main) subject which is the point of attention. The eye treats a subject as dominant (and hence is attracted to it) when it has some properties like large size (compared to less important supporting elements), a different tone (creating a contrast) compared to the surroundings, vibrant color, sharper rendering, etc. Next, where should you position the main subject in the frame? The generally accepted, practice is called “Rule of Thirds”. For this you have to divide your viewfinder frame into 9 parts (like a tick-tack-toe grid) and keep the center of interest at one of the intersections. These intersections are called “points of dominance”. This is a useful and important thumb rule. 
Also, the horizons should preferably be placed not at the center but at the lower or upper one thirds. While an asymmetric placement like this works very well, sometimes it is alright to keep the horizon at the center when you are photographing scenes with reflections. Likewise the subject can also be kept at center when it is highly symmetric. As you have already read, these are guidelines rather than rules.
A picture can have a secondary subject to draw the eye to it. Otherwise the eye may not move from the main subject. The secondary subject should be less dominating so that it does not compete with the main subject for attention. At the same time it should be sufficiently different to draw the viewer’s eye to it. This can be done by making the secondary subject have a different color, contrast, shape, etc.
Lines and shapes: Lines and geometric shapes like rectangles, circles and triangles create visual impact. Lines convey certain meanings and also influence how the camera has to be oriented – in portrait or landscape format. The former is more suitable for vertical lines for e.g. trees. Vertical lines symbolize strength and power (remember the phrase “standing tall”?)
Landscape format on the contrary is more suitable for horizontal lines like fences, flowing rivers, etc. These lines convey more a sense of rest and tranquility.
So what about diagonal lines? These normally indicate motion. The eye tends to move along the diagonal rapidly. One precaution that you need to take when using a diagonal line is that it should not start exactly in the corner of a frame as this has the effect of visually dividing the frame into two parts, something that is not desirable.
A curve makes your eye move along with it, similar to a line. However, being curved it slows down the eye and makes the observation longer which is what we want. One of the classic curves is the “S” curve (shaped like the letter ‘S’) which is one of the most powerful compositional elements. The S-curves you are likely encounter commonly are mountain roads, streams, etc.
Coming to shapes, it is easy to find recognizable shapes like rectangles, circles, etc., that are present in a scene. Another easily identifiable shape is a triangle that is formed by mountains, hills, etc.
Frames: One of the ways to draw your attention to the main subject would be through the use of frames. A very commonly used frame in landscape photography is branches of a tree. Since the main purpose of the frame is to draw your attention to the main subject, the frame need not be in sharp focus.
Vertical or Horizontal Orientation of your Camera: Almost all cameras these days are oriented in such a way that the image is captured in the horizontal (also known as landscape) orientation. Due to this many photographs are taken this way even when the subject requires the camera to be turned 90 degrees for vertical (also known as portrait) orientation. While there is no rule on what percentage of photographs should be vertical and how many should be horizontal, normally at least 20% of your images should be photographed in the vertical orientation. The general guide line is, choose portrait orientation if the subject and flow of the lines are vertical (e.g. tall trees, buildings, etc.) Choose landscape orientation if the subject and flow of the lines are horizontal (e.g. streams, mountain ranges, etc.). Also leading lines form a strong complement to the portrait orientation.
Tip: If you are in doubt always take photographs in both the orientations and you can select later.
 
Leading lines: A very important technique to guide your eyes to the main subject is through the use of lines that do this. Naturally these are called leading lines and are a very strong element in creation of a good composition. The eye travels along the leading line, through the picture, exploring the surroundings in an orderly manner and reaches the main subject instead randomly wandering all over. Leading lines that are available commonly are streams, fences, walls, roads, etc. A leading line can be a straight line or even better – a curve which you may recall will make your eye move slowly.
Textures and Patterns: An eye when moving in the frame looks for patterns which are nothing but repetition of shapes or symbols. This pattern can occupy the whole picture itself. In this case, there will no main subject since all the symbols put together themselves form the subject.
Texture is a compositional element that provides a sort of “tactile” sensation through visual means. A rough stone when photographed properly can make you feel the roughness even though you are not touching it. Thus texture when employed properly adds an important element to enhance reality of a landscape photograph.
Abstracts: Sometimes the interplay of bright and dark areas or areas of different colors can create interesting abstracts. The result may not look like the traditional landscape but will be interesting in its own right.
 
Creation of depth: A photograph when viewed on a monitor or as a print is flat, having only two dimensions. However, our eyes see the world in three dimensions that is, with depth. Hence, it is important that you create an illusion of depth. One way to do this is to use a property called “perspective”. Briefly this means that objects that are close to our eyes appear large compared to objects that are far away. Hence, this property can be used to create the feeling of depth. The property of perspective is also responsible for converging of parallel lines like banks of a river. This in turn conveys a feeling of distance and hence depth.
 
To create a dramatic perspective, you need to keep a foreground element as close to the camera as possible. Using a wide or an ultra-wide angle lens will enable you to go closer to the foreground element. This in turn will make the foreground element large thus creating a sense of depth. A low camera angle also helps. The foreground element also forms a ‘stepping stone” for the user to enter the photograph. Don’t forget to set the aperture small enough to get adequate DOF.
Another way to create depth is to use “aerial” separation. If you look at any scene with faraway objects you will find that they are hazy and less intensely rendered than the close by objects. This property can be used to create depth. This works very well with mountain ranges where series of mountains are one behind another, with each receding line being more hazy than the one in front of it.
 
Tip: This is what a well-known photographer said regarding composition. Before you press the shutter release, ask yourself the question “What am I trying to present to the viewer”? Try to describe the scene mentally in words. If the answer can be told precisely in a sentence then it means that composition is effective. If it takes a paragraph to say the same then perhaps there are too many extraneous elements competing for attention or in other words the composition is loose!
Other camera Settings: There are a few more settings that are present on cameras that control the overall quality of the image.
ISO setting: Set the ISO of your camera to the lowest “base” value. As the ISO is increased, the digital noise level increases, reducing the quality of the picture. Though the noise performance of cameras is improving steadily, the quality is always relatively better at lower ISOs. Note that some cameras have a base ISO range and an extended ISO range. In the latter the ISO range is extended at both the lower and higher ends with some loss of picture quality. Hence, do not use the extended range though it may offer a lower ISO compared to the lowest in the base range.
High ISO Noise Reduction (NR): As you have already seen, it is best to use the lowest base ISO. In case you are forced to use a high ISO make sure you switch on the High ISO NR option. This will reduce the noise at high ISO but at the loss of some detail. Many cameras give the option of applying this NR at several strengths – from low to high. The later applies noise reduction more strongly with subsequent greater loss of detail. Experiment with different settings in your camera and decide on a setting that serves you best.
Long Exposure NR: Digital noise builds up in the camera if the shutter is kept open for a long time. High ambient temperature aggravates this. To reduce this, switch on the long exposure NR setting. Once you do this your camera after taking the normal picture will automatically take another image without your intervention, but with the shutter closed. The duration of this image will be the same as the actual image captured. Hence, the noise build up will be similar but the image is just black. Now the camera will automatically subtract this dark image (this process is called “dark image subtraction”) from the actual image. With this operation, the signal common to both the frames, which is nothing but the noise, is removed. The result is a very clean image. Note that since a second image is taken with the same duration, the total time will be twice the shutter speed chosen plus the processing time for subtraction. So, at what shutter speed should you enable this feature? This is something that the camera decides. Once that speed or a longer speed is selected (either by you or by the camera if you are in an automatic mode), the long exposure NR will get activated automatically once this option is set.
Equipment for landscape photography: One nice thing about landscape photography is that you need only minimal equipment. Any D-SLR is eminently suitable. So is the ubiquitous P&S (or a bridge) digital camera. Believe it or not there are world renowned professional photographers, who use P&S cameras as a walk around camera and have taken truly great landscape pictures with them. As far lenses go a moderate wide angle to telephoto zoom (like the one which is standard on P&S cameras or in D-SLR kits) is a good starting point. You can add ultra wide angle lenses and telephoto lenses later if your style of photography demands them. When buying lenses for D-SLRs make sure that there are distance scales marked on the lens barrel.
Apart from the camera and the lens the next most important gadget you need is a good sturdy tripod. Get one without any further delay if you don’t have one already. It will improve your photography by allowing you to compose better, sharpen your images by steadying your camera and so on, all with minimum investment. Remember that you will often need slow shutter speeds to get the needed DOF. This again necessitates the use of a tripod.

In Part III: Filters, problems and solutions in landscape photography, seascapes and cityscapes and more!!

Photographing Landscapes, Cityscapes and Seascapes (Part I)

Landscapes are undoubtedly one of the most popular subjects of photography. Very few images have the beauty of a tranquil lake or the grandeur of a soaring mountain range. Probably there is no photographer in the world who has not tried his (or her) hand in landscape photography! Some of the greatest photographers of all time spent their entire life dedicated to this genre of photography.

Before we go further let us look at what constitutes a landscape and its two close cousins – seascapes and cityscapes. Wikipedia defines a landscape as follows:
“Landscape is essentially a piece of inland scenery. It comprises of visible features of an area of land, including the physical elements of landforms, water bodies such as rivers and lakes, living elements like vegetation, human elements like land uses and structures and weather conditions.”
In photography a landscape is an artistic representation depicting an area of land with its features. So, often a “photograph of a landscape” is just called a landscape. The focus of this article will be on landscape photography in color. Many great artists like the immortal Ansel Adams have taken great monochrome landscape photographs but that is another topic altogether.
A seascape in our context is a photograph, which depicts the sea. And, a cityscape is the urban equivalent of a landscape. 
Many times you might have been captivated by a beautiful scenery. Assuming that you were having a camera in hand at that time, you look through the viewfinder and then take a picture. You come home and look at this image on your computer monitor (or a print of it). To your disappointment what you are seeing is not making such a great impact now. So what went wrong? Really nothing! The reason is that, something good or great visually doesn’t make great a landscape photograph automatically. There are several aspects that you need to consider to convert what you have seen into a great landscape photograph. If this is so, what are the factors that you need to consider? This is what this article will explain to you.  
The basic aspects that you need to consider when making a landscape photograph for good impact are:
1.       Maximum detail
2.       Vibrant and true colors
3.       Light
4.       Composition
The rest of the article will explain these factors and give you directions on how to achieve them.
1. Maximum detail:  A landscape photograph has to capture the most intricate details to make an impact. The details, for example can be ripples in a stream, texture of a rock or a small flower. The viewer will have a visual treat when he observers these fine details. Hence, these are an essential part of a landscape. Here are some more points that you should follow to get the sharpest image that is essential for extracting maximum details.
Keep the camera steady: It has already been mentioned before in these series of articles but let me say this again – for maximum sharpness a tripod is a must, even if your lens or camera has some sort of shake reduction mechanism. When using a tripod, extend the center column to the least possible extent.  Extending it too much reduces the stability leading to loss of sharpness.
Release the shutter carefully: Do not release the shutter by hand. Best is to have a remote release as you can control the exact moment of release. Unfortunately most new cameras do not have a provision for a simple inexpensive cable release. You will need to use an electrical cable release which can be quite expensive. Check if your camera has a wireless infrared (IR) port. If this is present an inexpensive IR remote can be used to release the shutter. An alternative is to use the self timer. The only disadvantage is that you cannot control the exact time of release. This can be a problem in the field as at the time of shutter release a gust of wind can move a plant for example. This will result in an unsharp image.
Reduce the mirror vibration: If you are using a D-SLR then the movement of the mirror can cause vibration, reducing the sharpness. This vibration is most prominent at a certain range of shutter speeds. This range varies from camera to camera but is generally from ¼ to 1/15 sec. Try as much as possible to avoid this range of speeds by varying aperture and ISO.
If your camera has the mirror lock-up (MLU) feature use this as this will raise the mirror and keep it static when the shutter is released, thus greatly reducing the vibrations.
In case your camera does not have the MLU, you can use the Live View mode which will also raise the mirror and keep it there when the shutter is released. However, there is a small complication here, in case you are using Live View with auto-focus (AF) as some cameras offer two options. Choose the option that uses the contrast detection method to achieve AF. This uses the image sensor itself for AF and does not involve any mirror movement once you enter Live View. (This mode is known as Live mode by Canon and Tripod mode by Nikon)
Last alternative is to use what is called the “Mirror pre-release” or “Exposure Delay” mode. In this mode, the mirror rises when you press the shutter release but the shutter will open only after a short delay (about a second). This delay will ensure that the mirror induced vibrations have died down before the shutter opens.
Getting more pixels from your camera:  The need to record the finest details is the reason why many professional photographers use medium or large format cameras for landscape photography. These record images with a huge pixel count (either digitally or through scanning a large sized film transparency) and hence retain the details even when you make very large sized prints. Believe it or not, you too can record images with a very high pixel count and this does not involve a great deal of expenditure. While this sounds to be good to be true, it is possible. But how? Switch to a longer focal length and take many images to cover the entire scene with about 30% overlap between the images. Now, stich them together with suitable software. The longer the focal length you use, more the images you will need to cover the scene due to the narrow angle of view of the lens. This will result in more pixels. You can end up with a final image that can be hundreds of megapixels in size. The technique is similar to the one used for creating panorama images (see Basics of Photography, Smart Photography, Dec. ’10 issue) and is suitable only for static subjects. Hence, it is eminently suitable for landscapes but not seascapes. Think of this technique only when you are printing very large say 40X60” are larger.
Lens and the sweet spot of your lens: Remember that a lens plays the most important part in getting a sharp result. If you are D-SLR user (or planning to buy one) always spend more on the lenses rather than on the camera body though there is a tendency on the part of many to do the reverse. Buy the best lens you can afford. Beyond that, every lens has what is called the “sweet spot”. This is the aperture(s) at which the lens is the sharpest. So, set your lens at this aperture for optimum performance. How do you know this aperture? Here are a few choices. Do some tests at different aperture settings and choose the best one. Or read test reports (from Smart Photography for example) for the particular lens you are using. These tests indicate the apertures at which the lens gives its best performance. Try to use this aperture to the extent possible with due consideration of depth of field (DOF). Also never use an aperture smaller than what is needed for the required DOF. This is because small apertures introduce diffraction (light rays bending around the aperture blades) reducing the overall sharpness.
Correct focus: Composition in landscape photography in many cases involves the use of a foreground element to create a sense of depth. This element being closest needs to be in sharp focus together with elements in the middle ground as well as background. To achieve this you need to exploit the property of DOF effectively. Briefly DOF is determined by:
1.       Magnification: This depends on the focal length and the distance of the subject,  together. Higher the magnification lesser will be the DOF.
2.       Aperture: The smaller the aperture, greater will be the DOF.
3.       Sensor size: The smaller the sensor the greater will be the magnification when you print. So the tolerance of out of focus, normally specified as Circle of Confusion, becomes tighter with smaller sensors.
Shutter speed and ISO will not directly affect the DOF but can be used to manipulate the aperture to get the required DOF. Increasing ISO and / or slower shutter speeds will give you narrower aperture and hence greater DOF. However, in the former case you may have to sacrifice some quality and in the latter case you may need camera support.
You can also use the property of Hyper Focal Distance (HFD).  If you set the lens distance scale at HFD then all the objects from one half of HFD to infinity will be in focus. HFD is also the point at which DOF is at the maximum. HFD depends on the focal length of the lens plus the aperture. So, here is one precaution that you need to take. Once you set the focus to HFD you should not change the aperture or focal length (either by zooming or changing the lens). In case you change any or both of these you need to determine the value of the new HFD and set the focus to this.
One more point. After setting the lens at HFD, if you look through the viewfinder of a D-SLR, the scene will look out of focus— that is, blurry! This is because the viewing aperture is not the same as the aperture at which the picture is taken. However, the resulting picture will be sharp so long as the HFD is set correctly for that particular aperture and focal length you have chosen. You can check this by pressing the DOF preview button.
While you can calculate the HFD, it is rather difficult to do so in the field as you need to take all the three factors listed. So, here is a table with HFD values for commonly used focal lengths and apertures.  The values here have been calculated for D-SLRs with APS-C sized sensors.
 

You can copy the table, laminate it and keep it in your camera bag so that you can have it handy when you need it (provided you are using a D-SLR with APS-C sized sensor).To use this, first get the HFD value from the table, for the aperture and the focal length that you want to use. Now, set this value on the focusing ring of your lens using the distance scale. Then, all subjects from half that distance (HFD) to infinity will be in focus. Unfortunately, many lenses are being manufactured presently without distance scales. If your lens does not have the distance scales, simply point the camera down to at about 1/3 distance into the scene, lock focus, recompose and take the picture. You can follow the same technique with P&S and bridge cameras as they too do not have any distance scales. Fortunately, the problem is not that serious here as these cameras have a great amount of DOF.

File formats: Ok, you have heard this before but here it is again! For best quality, use RAW format. Period. RAW format is “lossless” in the sense that the entire data that has been captured is retained. In case you do not want to use RAW format (as it involves more post processing) or your camera does not support RAW, then you can use the JPEG format

If you are using the JPEG format, then make sure that you make a proper selection of two settings –Size and Quality. The “Size” parameter is the one that determines how many pixels will be used to capture the image. It is rather surprising that in these days of mega pixel madness you can actually set the camera to record the image with lesser pixels than what your camera is capable of! This option is given so that you can record images with lesser pixels primarily for publishing on the web. However, the Author strongly recommends that you set this option to the highest pixel count that your camera is capable of and then forget about it. This is because you can always generate an image with lesser pixels from an image with a larger pixel count by down sampling but you cannot do the reverse. That is, an image captured with lesser number of pixels and then up sampled to a higher pixel count can never match the quality of an image that has been originally captured with a higher pixel count.
Another important parameter that concerns the JPEG is the “Quality” setting. The title Quality is something of a misnomer because Quality really refers to the compression that camera does to the captured image file before it stores it in the memory card as a JPEG file. The amount of compression is determined by the compression factor. As an example, if the factor is 8, then it means that the compression will reduce the file size 8 times. These factors typically range from 4 to 16.
The higher the compression the lower will be quality. As the compression gets higher finer detail and smooth gradation of the tones will be lost. Remember that you can always compress an image later with a higher factor even if it was originally captured with less compression. On the other hand if you capture an image with high compression, re-writing the file in your computer with an image editing software with lower compression factor will not improve the image. Usually several options like Super Fine, Fine, Normal, Basic, etc. are available under Quality setting. Just set the camera to the setting that does the least compression (and hence best quality) and then forget about it. In summary unlike RAW, JPEG format is “lossy” as it loses detail while compressing. However, this can be kept to the minimum, in fact almost to nothing, by choosing the least compression factor.
Note that when you choose the maximum pixel count for “Size” and least compression for “Quality”, the file size will become the largest. However, this is not a hindrance these days as the prices of memory cards are constantly dropping. This is a small price to pay for the best possible results from your camera.
Sharpness: As you read sharpness gives detail to a picture. Many cameras provide a setting called “Sharpness”. When used, this increases the sharpness of a captured image by increasing the contrast at the boundaries of the tones. This gives the apparent impression that the sharpness has increased. That is also the reason why the sharpness setting is not going to help you much if you shake your camera while taking the picture! The issue with the “in-camera” sharpening is that the camera does not know where to and where not to and will apply sharpening all over the image. This leads to speckling in areas with slight tonal variations (like sky) if you over do it. If you want to sharpen only selective areas then you need to post process the image (let us say in Photoshop) as this is something a camera’s in built processor cannot do. Usually sharpness setting is available with several strengths and you can choose what you want. My advice is not to apply too strong in-camera sharpening as this will give rise to imperfections (called artifacts) in an image and can look very ugly.
Contrast: This is another setting that is very important. Generally, you cannot say that a landscape should have high or low contrast since a lot will depend on the landscape you are photographing. For e.g. a foggy scene has low contrast. However, if contrast level is not set properly you can lose details. For example, if you set the contrast setting too high, then it tends to make the highlights brighter and shadows darker. This may result in blown highlights or blocked shadows resulting in loss of detail. Hence, if the scene has a very high brightness range you should keep the contrast setting at the lowest level. On the contrary if you set the contrast setting too low the resulting image may look “flat” with very little tonal variation. So, you need to set the contrast value depending on the scene. You can experiment a bit and arrive at contrast settings that suit you best.
2.  Vibrant and True Colors: A landscape has to be visually attractive to the viewer. One of the ways to do this is emphasize colors. These could be attractive hues during sunset, brilliant colors of a flower bed and so on. Bright, saturated colors (red and yellow in particular) can draw the attention of the viewer very effectively. Also, the colors must be “true” that is, they should   be as close as possible to the naturally occurring colors yet saturated. So what are the steps that you need to take to get punchy and saturated but true colors from your camera? Most cameras (especially D-SLRs) offer several options for tuning your camera to do this. Here are some of these:
Color Saturation: There are two schools of thought regarding the rendering of color in a landscape photograph. One opinion is that the colors should be as they appear in nature. The other school of thought prefers vibrant, punchy colors, more saturated than the naturally occurring colors. This latter view for good or bad is more prevalent today. In any case, your in-camera processing can be set the way you want it. The major setting that involves color is saturation. Also increasing the contrast increases apparent saturation. In most cameras, you can set contrast and saturation independently of one another.
Hue: The hue setting actually changes the color. For e.g. you can make reds more purple, blues more green, and so on. The Author’s advice is not to touch this control as it can disturb the trueness (fidelity) of color.
Color Space: A color space is the range of colors (called color gamut) that is available when your camera is recording an image. Think of it as your camera’s crayon box. More the crayons your camera has, more the colors it can draw. All D-SLRs offer a choice of color spaces. The most commonly used are sRGB and Adobe RGB (also called aRGB). The former has range of colors but is used almost exclusively by all web sites and also by many commercial printing systems like Fuji Frontier. This is the color space you need to use if you are publishing images on the web or getting them printed commercially in a color lab. The aRGB is used mostly when printing is done on ink jet printers. You may think that you should  set the camera to aRGB as it has greater range of colors but if you view an image captured with aRGB color space on a device meant for sRGB space like a web site on a monitor, then you will get washed out colors. On the other hand if you set your camera to sRGB, you will lose some colors (the deeply saturated ones) even if you convert the color space back to aRGB when you print on an inkjet printer. One way to get around this is to photograph in RAW as the color space is assigned only in a JPEG file. Thus, with RAW you will have the flexibility of assigning the color space later depending on your end use.  If your camera does not have a color space option then you can take it for granted that it is operating in the sRGB space.
White Balance (WB): The WB setting is really not a setting that enhances color but plays a major role in rendering the colors truer. If the WB is not properly set the whole image will be affected by a color cast and in some cases the colors can turn muddy.  Getting rid of these color casts can be very tedious and sometimes it is just not possible to get correct colors at all. Once again using RAW format is advisable as the WB can be set after you take the picture and you will get a lot more flexibility in doing so.
If you are using the JPEG format please make sure that you set the WB properly. Usually there are several settings available for WB like Sunny, Cloudy, etc. It is best to choose the setting that is most appropriate for the particular situation. Avoid as much as possible the “Auto WB” setting. Many cameras also offer what is called custom WB setting where you can set the WB manually. Use this option as it is the most accurate for a given lighting condition.
Tip: The color of the light during sunrises and sunsets tends to be warmer or more reddish and orange. Most of us like this color. If you use Auto WB, the camera tries to compensate for the excess red and tends to neutralize it. This spoils the “mood” of the image completely. So, you need to switch off the Auto WB and select “Sunny” setting. This will retain the warm colors. Of course you can also photograph in RAW and adjust in post processing.
Picture Controls: Also called Picture Styles and so on by different manufacturers, these control sharpness, contrast, saturation, hue, etc. A set of these parameters can be defined by you to suit your taste. For example, you  can define one Picture Control “set” for landscape photography (e.g. more sharpness, higher saturation, etc.) and one more set for portraits (less sharpness, low contrast, neutral color, etc.) These can be stored in the camera under appropriate names like “Landscape”, “Portrait”, etc. These can be recalled easily later. When you to want photograph landscapes, all you need to do is to go to the menu and choose the “Landscape” Picture Control. Then the sharpness, contrast, saturation and hue settings that you have defined and stored previously for “Landscape” will be instantly loaded. Otherwise you would have to go to each of these settings and adjust them. You may also not always remember every time which settings were best for landscapes. So, this is a very handy way to predefine your settings and recall them.
Landscape mode: This is a setting that practically every P&S and bridge camera has. It is also available in most of the basic and mid-range D-SLR cameras though it is generally absent in high end models. It can be chosen very quickly by setting what is called a “mode dial” or through a menu setting. The symbol for this is generally a mountain. So, what does it do? As you have seen there are several camera settings that you can choose to enhance a landscape photograph. Once you choose the “Landscape” mode a predefined “set” of options is applied in one stroke instead you going through different menus and setting parameters like saturation, sharpness, etc. While this is no doubt very convenient you will not have much control on the settings as they are chosen by the manufacturer. When you choose landscape mode, the camera tries to set (conditions permitting) a small aperture for maximum DOF, flash is disabled (that is you cannot activate the flash to fire), vivid (highly saturated) colors, high sharpness, etc.
Note: You might be hard pressed to note the differences between the “Landscape” Picture Control and Landscape Mode selection. Indeed they look very similar but are there are some differences. First note that Picture Controls affect only JPEG processing as per the settings you have chosen. On the other hand if you choose Landscape Mode the camera takes into its hands most decisions, including shutter speed, aperture, operation of flash, etc.  Also Picture Controls allow you control the parameters (like saturation) mentioned earlier at will. With Landscape mode selection you may not have that control. So, there is a difference between these two!
Important: Contrast, saturation and sharpness can be added easily but very difficult to reduce in a JPEG file. Hence, you should keep these three settings as low as possible and enhance them only later in post processing. Only if you are totally against post processing and want to use the images straight out of the “box” (camera), you should resort to camera settings that will result in high contrast, saturation and sharpness. Once you do this your post processing options will be limited.
Tip: Remember that sharpness, saturation, color space, white balance, contrast, dynamic range extension, picture control settings will only affect your JPEG files but not your RAW files. If you photograph in RAW you can alter these later at will in the post processing stage. Score one more point in favor of RAW!

In Part II: Light and composition for landscapes and more!!!

Photographing Glassware

The word photography literally means “drawing with light.” What is seen by your camera lens is “drawn” on the sensor by the light that is reflected from the subject. It is the reflected light gives the form, texture, color, etc. to the subject. Most of the subjects that you come across are opaque. That is, they reflect light but do not allow light to pass through them. Glassware on the other hand is transparent and hence has the unique property of transmitting light through it. This singular ability of glassware to pass through light presents some very interesting possibilities and challenges in photography.

Being transparent glassware lends itself to be beautifully backlit. With colored light, glass can produce images that no opaque objects can. The possible combinations are endless, limited only by the imagination of the photographer. This is what makes photographing glassware at once a challenging and a fascinating subject. Glassware photography is a subset of table top photography but it is the trickiest of the lot. In fact it is jocularly said that glassware photography assignments are given to students only by sadistic professors! In this article you will be introduced to some important concepts that you can extend to more complex situations.
A truly transparent subject cannot be easily photographed because it will be invisible! So how do you make the invisible glass visible? This is the challenge presented to you as a photographer. Also note that glassware is highly reflective apart from being transparent. A reflection from a glass surface will obviously declare the presence of glass but these reflections are highly specular and small in size. Hence, these do not reveal the form of the glassware. In fact reflections from glass are generally unwanted. The only way to render glassware and its form is not to record the surface of the subject as you would normally do but to record the edges. For this we need to exploit the property of transparency.  
Before you proceed just remember what you learnt in your high school physics – angle of incidence of light is equal to the angle of reflection. I am sure that you have seen the diagram shown here previously. However, this is a much simplified diagram (compared to a real world situation) as it shows just one light ray incident on a flat surface. In practice there will be infinite light rays. Plus glassware generally has curved surfaces. Due to this any light incident on a glassware surface will reflect in all directions. Hence, it is indeed a tricky task to light even a simple glass without reflections. You can only achieve this by placing the light source very carefully where it cannot create any reflections. The diagram shows where you need to keep the light source to get such an effect. Note that you have only a very narrow area where you can keep the light source. While this looks quite restrictive you can get two complementary effects with the same light. How is this possible? Read on.
The two methods used to get these effects are called bright field and dark field techniques. The first renders the edges of glassware as black and second as white. It is technically possible to combine both the techniques in one photograph but this is a bit complicated and we will leave that for another day!
Bright Field Technique:

The lighting setup is shown in the diagram. One way to setup is to use a soft-box or a table lamp with a sheet of translucent material like tracing sheet in front. You will need a stand with a platform to keep the glassware in front of the light. The platform can be a sheet of glass or translucent acrylic. This will allow some light to pass through the platform and the base of the glassware brightening it. Another way is to use an acrylic sweep. This will be similar to the sweep used in table top photography (refer to Basics of Photography, Smart Photography, August 2010 issue) but is made of translucent acrylic. Alternatively you can also buy a gadget called light table which gives you this functionality.

Next step is to position your camera at the right place. This is a critical requirement and needs to be done before you keep the subject. After you choose a lens of suitable focal length you need to move the camera front and back so that the (angle of) view as seen through the viewfinder exactly covers the background, which are the edges of the soft-box (or whatever you have used). If this is not properly done then you will not get the desired effect. If the field of view is smaller than the background then you will notice that you will start getting unwanted reflections on the edges of the glassware. This is not what you want since in bright field technique you need to get dark edges. If the field of view is larger, then your camera will start recording an area beyond the background.

Now keep the subject on the platform. You will notice that as the subject is moved away from the light source the edge definition improves as there will less light reflecting from the edges. Find a suitable position for the subject and then focus.

You are now ready to take the photograph. But what is the exposure that you need to set? To understand that remember the metering “mantra” that you read in Basics of photography, Smart Photography, July 2009 issue. The mantra says that metered area is always rendered as medium tone but you can place it at any tone you want with proper exposure compensation!

With the bright line technique you already know that you need to keep the edges dark than the background light. Your exposure will determine how the background will be rendered. Rule of thumb here is that you can keep background around one stop lighter than medium tone to keep contrast with the edges.

If you are using a continuous light source, then switch to spot meter and then select manual exposure mode. Take a measurement of the top portion of the background and set it to 1 to 2 stops lighter than medium tone. You can experiment a bit to arrive at what pleases you most. If you are using a strobe light then you need to use a flash meter or do some trials with the help of histogram shown in your camera to get the right exposure.

Note: If you are keeping the subject on a platform and since the background is lit, there is a chance that the edge of platform will be recorded. This is not aesthetically pleasing. The easiest way to avoid this is use a sweep made of translucent acrylic as it was done here. This will give you a seamless background and will also help you to illuminate the background as well as brighten the glassware from beneath.

Dark Field Technique:
The lighting set up is shown in the diagram. You would have noticed that it is similar to the lighting of bright field technique, but for a gobo placed between the light and subject. The gobo is just a black opaque card which gives the black background. Its size should be such that plenty of light is visible around it. Here the size of the light source is very important, the larger the better. It should be preferably 10 times the size of the subject. The subject also needs to be kept on a black platform.
As in the previous case the positioning of the camera is very critical. After you choose a lens of suitable focal length move the camera front and back so that the (angle of) view as seen through the viewfinder exactly covers the background, which is the black gobo. To reiterate, this is very important! If the angle of view is smaller than the black background (gobo), then the gobo will block the lighting falling on the edges of the glassware. This will render them dark and they will merge into the black background. If angle of view is larger than the gobo, then your camera will record an area beyond the black background which in this case is bright light.
Now keep the subject and focus.
Determining the exposure in this case appears tricky since the scene is predominantly black. But you are really interested in the highlights on the edges. Remember that the direct reflections are as bright as the light source itself. So, if you are using a continuous light source, simply take the reading of the light source (put your camera in the spot meter mode and manual exposure mode first). This as you will recall will make the light source appear as medium toned which is not what you want. Giving an exposure compensation of 2 EV (stops) will render it close to white and hence edges will also be rendered white. You can experiment around this value and get the ideal exposure. If you are using strobes, you need to experiment a bit, taking the help of histogram.
Tip: You may be surprised to note but most D-SLRs (except high end models) do not have very accurate viewfinders. They show a little less than what is actually captured by the sensor. So, if you frame exactly using the viewfinder you may not get the results you want. On the other hand your camera’s LCD monitor is very accurate and corresponds to 100% of what is being captured. So, it is better to switch on the live view mode of your D-SLR and use the LCD monitor for viewing.
Subjects: One great advantage with glassware is that every household will have some basic glassware for you to start. Even simple glasses will look nice and are a good starting point. If you have wine glasses they would make an ideal subject due to their shape. Apart from these standard items, cut glass and glass figurines also make excellent subjects. One caution: high quality glassware (especially cut glass, crystal ware, etc.) can be expensive. Please handle with care. Broken glassware can cause broken heartsJ!
Tips for light sources: There is a real need for large light sources in glassware photography. If you have a slide projector from your film days, you can make an excellent large light source with it. Project the light without any slide on a screen or a white wall and use the entire illuminated surface as a large light source.
If you have a LCD computer monitor you can get a light source by opening a MS-Word or Notepad file with a blank (white) document. You can even get colored light from the LCD monitor by choosing a colored background (instead of white) in the software. A tracing sheet can be taped in front of the monitor if you need more diffused light. 
Alternate lighting techniques: While the bright field and dark field are the most popular, there are several other techniques that are useful in lighting glassware. Here is one such method. This is most suitable for glass statues. The lighting is done from underneath the subject and since glass is transparent the whole subject lights up. No other lighting is needed.
Here, the statue has been placed on a sweep made of opaque black paper. Since you need to light the statue from beneath, you need to cut a hole in the paper with a contour similar to that of the base of the statue but slightly smaller. This will prevent light from leaking out and will ensure that the light is fully confined to the statue. If the cutout is larger, then some light might spill out through the gap between the base and the cutout in the black paper. Since you are lighting from beneath, you need to keep the paper on a glass table or surface. You can also keep gels or cellophane paper in front of the light to get colored lighting. The other end of the sweep should be held vertical so that it will form a seam less background. The statue much be kept exactly on the cutout and should completely cover it.
Monochrome or Color? The examples you have seen so far have all been rendered in monochrome (black and white). While this is the best for color-less glass you can also take wonderful pictures of colored glassware. This image shows one such photograph. The lighting set up used here was identical to the bright field lighting technique shown earlier. The exposure reading was taken of the background as before and the compensation was set to +2.0 EV so that the acrylic is rendered in its true tone which is milky white.
Equipment needed for glassware photography:
·         Glassware photography needs minimal equipment. Any digital point-and-shoot (or a bridge) camera with macro capability or preferably a D-SLR with a close focusing lens (that is, one with a moderate macro capability) will do the job perfectly.
·         Precise positioning of camera that has been described can only be achieved by using a sturdy tripod. Don’t try handholding and get frustrated!
·         Expensive lighting equipment is really not needed. A simple table lamp with a compact florescent lamp (CFL), (See Basics of Photography, Smart Photography, August 2010 issue) will do the job perfectly. Alternatively strobes can be used. You can use portable shoe mount flashes too but these can be a little difficult to use since they do not give continuous light or have modeling lights. You must also have the facility to keep them off camera and trigger them. Remember that you just cannot photograph glassware by mounting the flash on your camera’s accessory shoe.
·         Thick black matt paper.
·         Cellophane papers of different colors in case you want colored light
·         Translucent acrylic milky white sheet (2mm thick) of 4ft X 2ft dimensions for forming seamless back drop behind which light is kept. (Acrylic sheets are normally used for making back lit signboards and are available in hardware shops). 
·         As you can see, besides the equipment that is needed for general photography, i.e. camera, lens, tripod, the extra equipment that is needed to produce the photographs shown costs very less. So, this is a type of photography that can be easily attempted without busting your bank account.
Some important precautions you need to take:
·         The glassware you are planning to photograph must be squeaky clean! You will be surprised how well the camera can capture blemishes like water marks, finger prints, etc. even if you haven’t observed them.
·         The room must be absolutely dark without any stray light. This is very important as stray light causes unwanted ugly reflections.
·         The room in which you are photographing must be completely free of reflecting surfaces (window panes, glass shelves, etc.). In case they are present, make sure that you have covered them so that there are no unnecessary reflections.

To conclude glassware is an exciting but tricky subject. However, it requires only minimum investment in terms of equipment. Subjects are easily available too as every household will have some glassware. Follow the procedures outlined in this article and you can have endless hours of fun. Plus you can get results that you will be proud to show to your friends and family. Good luck.

Photographing with Wide Angle Lenses

Introduction: Wide angle lenses are very versatile and are used extensively in photographing of interiors, architecture, landscapes, travel, family events, groups, candids, etc. In fact there are some very renowned photographers who used just one or two wide angle lenses for all their photography throughout their illustrious careers. Wide angle lenses are however, less conspicuous than their brethren – telephoto lenses, due to their smaller physical size. While telephoto lenses are difficult to handle physically due to their large size and weight they are easier to use artistically as they see a very narrow angle of view excluding a lot of unwanted surrounding elements. This makes composing easier. Wide angle lenses on the other hand are easier to handle physically but present a challenge when composing as they see a large area. Hence, a photographer might include, if not careful, lot of elements that are not essential thus spoiling the overall impact.
Before we go furthefurther rFirst  let us define what a wide angle lens is. As the name implies it is a lens that sees a large angle of view hence covers a large area in the frame. Since, it covers a large area the magnification will be low compared to an image taken from the same spot using a normal or a telephoto lens. Wide angle lenses will have shorter focal lengths but you cannot say that a lens is a wide angle lens or a telephoto lens by just looking at the focal length as the size of the sensor should also be taken into account. Thus, a lens with a focal length of 35mm will be a wide angle for 24 X 36 mm (full frame, also called FX) format, a normal for APS – C (also called DX or 16 X 24 mm) format and even a telephoto for a P&S camera with a small sensor. What is important is the angle of view (and hence area covered) which is dependent on both focal length and sensor size. The following table will help you understand this.
Also, note that this table is for wide angle rectilinear (not fisheye) lenses. The latter are designed and built deliberately with barrel distortion but cover 180°. These are not being considered in this article. Extreme wide angle lenses are sometime called ultra wide angle lenses and super wide angle lenses. There is however no fixed definition for this nomenclature.
Wide angle lenses are difficult to design and manufacture. However, advances in technology have brought excellent wide angle lenses now within the reach of many of us. You are also now able to buy some ultra wide zooms (e.g. 10-20mm for APS-C sensor cameras) at a very reasonable price.
The widest rectilinear (non-fisheye) lens that is commercially available in the world (for 24 X 36 mm format) is the Voigtlander Heliar. It has a focal length of 12mm and an angle of view of 121°. This fits only rangefinder (non-SLR) cameras. The widest lens ever made for a 35mm SLR is the 13mm f/5.6 Nikkor. This was introduced in 1975 and is no longer in production. It is now a collector’s item. The widest focal length you can get for APS-C format as we go to press is 8mm.
Before we go further you should be clear about a few concepts regarding perspective and distortion as these are often misunderstood.
Perplexing Perspective: Perspective is the relative size of foreground and background elements. Perspective contrary to what many think does not depend on the focal length. Yet most images with exaggerated perspective (very large difference in size between foreground and background elements) have indeed been created with wide angle lenses. So how do you explain the apparent contradiction as just now you read that focal length plays no role in perspective? Well there is really no contradiction.
This is because wide angle lenses permit short subject distances and cover a large area. The cause of the exaggerated perspective is due to this short subject distance and not due to focal length. Thus many photographers come to the right conclusion but for wrong reasons!
So, the question that will come to your mind is that, if you use a telephoto at the same subject distance will you get the same exaggerated perspective? The answer is an emphatic “yes”. Next, if this is indeed the case, why is that you don’t come across images with such exaggerated perspective but made with telephoto lenses? There are two reasons or perhaps, more appropriately hassles, that prevent you from doing this.
First, a normal telephoto lens does not focus as closely as the wide angle lens. Second, a telephoto lens covers a narrow angle and hence only small area is captured. Due to this much of the scene is not visible and hence you cannot compare the relative size of different elements. Theoretically if you find a telephoto lens that focuses as close as a wide angle lens, take a number of pictures to cover the area as seen by the wide angle lens, stitch the images together, then the resulting image will be identical to that of an image taken with a wide angle lens from the same distance. Unbelievable but true!
Perspective and distortion – these are different: These two are as different as chalk and cheese but unfortunately used interchangeably by many. Distortion is essentially a defect in the lens. It is a measure of faithfulness with which a lens forms an image. It is very similar to fidelity of a music system. In a lens distortion means that straight lines when reproduced by the lens on the sensor are no longer straight lens but are bent. In the case of wide angle lenses, the most commonly found distortion is called barrel distortion as it causes straight lines to be bent outwards like the sides of a barrel.
The exaggerated perspective exhibited when subject distance is small is not distortion as it is not a defect but an optical property. Unfortunately, many Internet sites, books, etc. refer to this as distortion which is incorrect. A related misconception results in a very commonly made statement that – “wide angle lenses (especially ultra wide lenses) inherently exhibit distortion”. This is wrong on two counts. First, the exaggerated perspective is being called distortion which it is not. Secondly it says that wide angle lenses inherently exhibit this, when really the exaggerated perspective is being caused by subject distance and not due to focal length.
Remember that there are top quality ultra wide angle lenses that are free from distortions. These lenses will produce the same exaggerated perspective when used close to the subject but will have no distortion – which means that straight lines will be reproduced as straight lines.
Correcting Distortion: Once up on a time, photographers had to live with distortion but fortunately that is the not the case anymore. Many editing software packages allow the distortion to be corrected later during the post-processing of the images. You need to input the lens type and the software can calculate the correction needed based on the lens characteristics that it has stored. It can then produce a distortionless image! Some cameras can also do this all by themselves.
How to use a wide angle lens
Most photographers think that the primary use of wide angle lenses is to use them in cramped situations like taking a group photo (think of a birthday party) in a small room with your back to the wall. Yes, wide angle lenses can be and are used this way. But doing this would be like buying a Ferrari and driving it at 50 kmph. Alright for a start but the lens’ potential is hardly being exploited.
Go close, go very close: The real power of a wide angle lens comes when you exploit its wide angle of view with a very close foreground element. This gives a dramatic and exaggerated perspective especially if you photograph from a low level. The result is a strong composition and the foreground element will act as an anchor to the photograph. You can say that the magic will start appearing now! If you use an ultra super wide angle lens very close to the subject, then the perspective will be even more dramatic perhaps even a bit wacky! You will get a view that is just not possible (at least easily) with anything else. You will be virtually propelled into the scene!
You should to keep a foreground element say a rock or a plant in a scene and then a background element like a mountain or building in the background. As a wide angle lens expands the distance (as opposed to a telephoto lens) this will create a strong sense of depth. This technique is very widely used with landscape photographers to create depth.
Issue of DOF (Depth of Field): When you are going close to the foreground element and at the same time you want to keep the background too in sharp focus (as demanded in landscape photographs for e.g.) you need to have adequate DOF. Fortunately, this is not very difficult in these cases if you use small apertures. This in turn will need slow shutter speeds and you hence you will need to use a tripod. In fact when using wide angle lenses a tripod is a must as not only does it steady your camera but also helps you to compose and align the camera carefully (more of it shortly). Also you can set your camera to the hyperfocal distance to get maximum DOF.
Portraits with wide angle lenses: You must have been advised many times not to use a wide angle lens for a tight (face only) portrait (unless you want to make that person your enemyJ). This is because such a portrait will exaggerate the protruding features (for e.g. the nose of person) which will be closer to the lens than the other parts of the face. Believe it or not if you move away from the subject and take a portrait, this effect will vanish!
If that is the case, how do you use a wide angle lens for a portrait? While you will not get a tight pleasing portrait, you can move back and take what is called an “environmental portrait” that includes the surrounding scene to give a flavor of the environment.
Camera Alignment: Alignment is important when you are using any lens, not just wide angle lenses. However, the way you would generally use a wide angle lens will make the misalignment prominently visible. Also, wide angle lenses are often used for photographing architecture and any misalignment is very easily detectable in this genre of photography. The table below gives the effect of misalignment in different axes (directions).
Take the help of a spirit! An easy way to make sure that your camera is aligned properly (at least in two directions) is to use a spirit (or bubble) level. These are quite economical and will do an excellent job when used carefully. While the principle of operation is same as that of a masonry level, those meant for photography come with two feet that allows you to slide it in your camera’s accessory shoe. Good ones (like the one made by Manfrotto) have two bubbles, one for each axes. This will help you to level in two of the three axes. Some modern cameras have built in electronic levels but these are generally accurate to half a degree. This is generally inadequate as even a misalignment of 0.25° is easily noticeable. Of course it goes without saying that you have to mount your camera on a tripod to use the level properly.
Some cameras (e.g. Nikon D90, 300s, Canon 7D, etc.) offer a switchable graph (called grid lines) in the viewfinder. Alternatively, high end professional D-SLR cameras offer interchangeable focusing screens. Here you will be able to get an optional focusing screen with grid lines (often called an “architectural” screen). Whichever feature your camera may support, grid lines are very helpful in aligning and leveling your camera.
Viewing a wide angle photograph: To view and feel the full impact of a wide angle photograph you need to print it large or view it on a large monitor. There is no point in capturing a scene with some dramatic perspective and then print it or see it on a monitor at the post card size. If you are printing it you should use minimum dimensions of 10 X 12 in or when viewing you must view it full screen on a 19 in monitor.
To conclude, wide angle lenses are a challenge to use. Extreme care must be taken when you are photographing subjects with lines (like buildings) where any mis-alignment will be easily detectable. Same is the case with horizons and water bodies which look very bad if they are inclined. However, once you have mastered using wide angle lenses they give a drama and a punch to the picture that no other lens can give. And, for best results don’t forget to take the help of your three legged friend (the tripod)!

Photographing with Telephoto Lenses

Telephoto lenses by virtue of their large physical size are sort of “glamour” symbols of the photographic world. Just go to any photographic outing or clubs, those photographers with large telephoto lenses get the most envious glances. Telephoto lenses are indispensible for photographing sports and wildlife. They are also very useful for portraiture. While telephoto lenses (especially those with very long focal lengths) are difficult to handle physically due to their large size and weight, they are somewhat easier to use compositionally as they see a very narrow angle of view excluding a lot of unwanted surrounding elements. This makes composing easier.

Before we go deeper let us define what a telephoto lens is. It is a lens that provides a view narrower than that of a normal lens. Just as a recap, remember that a normal lens is the one that has a focal length approximately equal to the diagonal of the frame. Thus, for a full frame or a 35mm format it will be 43mm (though 50mm is more commonly used) and for the APS-C format it will be around 28mm. The angle of view (AOV) of such lenses will be around 46°. Here is a table that gives AOV for different focal lengths and formats.
The lens with the longest focal length ever produced for commercial use is the 2000mm f/11 reflex lens by Nikon. This is a manual focus length that weighs 17.5 Kgs!  It is no longer in production. The longest autofocus lens that is being manufactured presently is the 800mm f/5.6 lens by Canon.
Fast telephoto lenses: As you may recall fast lenses have two advantages. They allow you to photograph at a lower light for the same shutter speed or use a faster shutter speed for the same light. Hence, fast lenses are very useful for low light and action (sports, wildlife, etc.) photography. As with everything in life there is no free lunch. Fast lenses are very heavy, especially at long focal lengths. The table below, which shows the weight of four 300mm lenses from the same manufacturer but with different speeds, illustrates this very well. You can see that an increase in one stop in speed has a drastic effect on weight. Price too increases rapidly with the f/2.8 version costing more than four times the f/4.0 version. 
Handling telephoto lenses: You have seen that telephoto lenses, especially those which are fast and/or have long focal lengths are very heavy. Lifting or handling the lens plus camera combination with the camera alone without supporting the lens can damage the lens mount on the camera (by bending it or by misaligning it). Hence, once you mount a heavy lens you should always pick up and handle supporting the lens rather than the camera.
Mounting telephoto lenses on tripods: For heavy lenses, manufacturers provide a collar on the lens which has its own tripod socket to fasten the lens to a tripod head. If such a provision is there on your lens, then you must use it when mounting the camera plus lens on a tripod. If you fix the camera to the tripod head using the tripod socket on the camera then you can cause damage to the camera mount as explained. The tripod collar is designed so that the lens rotates within the collar. This allows portrait orientation without the need to flop (overhang) the camera to the side with a heavy lens mounted. This increases the stability of the setup considerably.
Tele-zooms and telephoto prime lenses: As the technology advanced, focal lengths which were once exclusive domain of prime lenses are now being catered to by tele-zooms. Not long ago zooms were limited to just 200mm. Now a days you can get many tele-zooms that go up to 400mm and there are even a few that go up to 500mm. The most popularly used tele-zooms are 55-200mm, 70-300mm and 100-400mm. Only where you need extreme speeds, focal lengths and highest quality does one needs to resort to primes. Examples of such prime lenses are 200mm f/2.0, 300mm f/2.8, 400mm f/2.8, 500mm f/4.0, 600mm f/4.0 and 800mm f/5.6. All of these are very expensive, large and heavy – actually very, very, heavy.
Acquiring the subject with telephoto lenses: Please refer to the table which gives the angle of view. From this you can see that when you mount a 300mm lens on a APS-C sensor D-SLR you will only see a very small area that corresponds to a AOV of just 5° 20’. Hence, you will have great difficulty in acquiring a moving target like a flying bird unless you have been tracking it from quite some distance. This problem gets compounded when you use even longer and heavier lenses. Also, a gimbal head will be very useful for subject tracking (more of it shortly). Needless to say practice also helps.
If you are using a zoom lens then it is better to start at the shortest focal length, acquire the subject and then zoom in to a longer focal length while keeping the subject under one of the AF area markers in the viewfinder. This is not very difficult but a little practice as with everything else in photography will help in getting you a larger number of keepers. There is one precaution that you need to take. You need to set your camera to continuous autofocus mode. This is the mode that will allow your camera to track and maintain focus as the subject moves. Also, many zoom lenses change focus (even when the subject is stationary) when the focal length changes. This aspect is taken care as well with continuous focusing.
Lenses with long focal length are difficult to hold steadily to their high magnification as any shake when the shutter is released will get magnified and will be visible prominently. In fact the single biggest reason for getting unsharp images when using telephoto lenses is due to the shake. So, how do you reduce this problem? Here are a few points that you should consider.
Use a Tripod: A tripod is an indispensable aid for any photographer regardless of the type of lens used. However, its usefulness is much more when you are using telephoto or super telephoto lenses. By using telephoto lenses on a tripod you will get a tremendous benefit. A tripod will keep the set up steady and will guarantee a sharp photograph. However, please remember that any tripod will not give you the results you want. At the minimum, to support a heavy telephoto lens you need a tripod with sufficient load capacity. It should be able to withstand the weight of the camera plus the lens and the head comfortably.
More important than simple load carrying capacity is the torsional rigidity of a tripod. This is basically the way a tripod resists rotation. Do this simple test. Mount a long lens (at least 300mm) on your tripod. Gently tap the side of the lens while looking through the viewfinder. See how much movement you can detect. Unless this is nil or negligible it simply means that the tripod does not have the torsional rigidity. Remember that longer the lens, higher should be the torsional rigidity. Good tripod manufacturers like Gitzo and Manfrotto specify the tripod models suitable for a range of focal lengths in their catalogs. Having a look at this will give you a good idea of this aspect.
Talking about heads, gimbal heads are best suited for heavy telephoto lenses as they offer unmatched tracking ease with little physical efforts. They are the best tools for photographing flying birds. However, they are specialized devices and are not useful for general purpose photography. Next best are high quality ball heads which can take heavy loads and are also flexible enough for tracking subjects though not to the same extent as the gimbal heads. They can be used for general purpose work too equally well.
Reduce the mirror vibration: The movement of the reflex mirror in a D-SLR can cause vibration reducing the sharpness. This vibration is most prominent at a certain range of shutter speeds. This range varies from camera to camera but is generally from ¼ to 1/15 sec. Try as much as possible to avoid this range of speeds by varying aperture and ISO.
If your camera has the mirror lock-up (MLU) feature use this as it will raise the mirror and keep it static when the shutter is released, thus greatly reducing the vibrations. Of course you will not able to see anything through the viewfinder once the mirror is raised (unless you are using Live View mode) so this is useful only for static subjects.
In case your camera does not have the MLU, you can use the Live View mode which will also raise the mirror and keep it there when the shutter is released. However, there is a small complication here, in case you are using Live View with auto-focus (AF) as some cameras offer two options.
One option achieves AF through the normal phase detection method and will involve mirror flipping up and down. Avoid this mode as it will involve mirror movement. The second option uses the contrast detection method to achieve AF. This uses the image sensor itself for AF. This is the one you should use since it does not involve any mirror movement once you enter Live View.
Last alternative is to use what is called the “Mirror pre-release” or “Exposure Delay” mode. In this mode, the mirror rises when you press the shutter release but the shutter will open only after a short delay (about a second). This delay will ensure that the mirror induced vibrations have died down before the shutter opens. Once again as you can expect this technique is useful only for static subjects.
Use a Monopod: A low cost but very popular device is the monopod. Using one will allow you to use shutter speeds up to 2 stops slower than the thumb rule shutter speed. These are easy to handle, compact and light. They are also a lot more flexible compared to tripods. If you are going to buy a monopod, pay particular attention to the head. Many make the mistake of attaching a normal ball head.
This is inconvenient in practice as the ball head allows movement in all directions making the set up difficult to handle. Instead of a ball head, buy a monopod head (like Model 234 from Manfrotto). This rotates only in one direction (pointing up or down) and is much easier to handle. These work best with those lenses which have a tripod collar as both landscape and portrait orientations are easily possible. If your lens does not have a collar, then you should use an L bracket. Panning is done by rotating the monopod itself.
So, how do you use a monopod? The best way to use a monopod is to use it like a tripod. Since a monopod has only one leg where do you get the other two legs from? Well, you can supply them J! Keep your two legs little apart and lean slightly on the monopod so that the monopod and your legs together form a tripod (see picture). This gives a good stable base.
Handholding of telephoto lenses: Not mounting a camera on a tripod or a monopod gives you a lot of flexibility (especially while tracking subjects that move rapidly like birds in flight or move randomly like a football player) but this does not guarantee sharp pictures unless the shutter speed is sufficiently fast. But how fast should it be? A very commonly used thumb rule is that you should use a shutter speed which is the reciprocal of the focal length or faster. That is, if you are using lens with a focal length of 500mm then you should use a shutter speed of a minimum of 1/500 sec. This was formulated during the days of 35mm film cameras. If you are using a full frame camera then the same rule will still hold good. If you are using a camera with an APS-C sensor then the minimum shutter speed should be 1/750 sec since a 500mm lens on such a camera will have a narrower angle of view due the cropping factor of 1.5. If you are using a 4/3 camera, the minimum shutter speed should be 1/1000 since the cropping factor is 2 in this case. As you can see getting such fast shutter speeds is not possible unless the light is very bright and/or the lens has a large aperture.
Fortunately, handholding received a tremendous fillip due to two technical advances. First is the excellent performance (that is superb quality images) of the new generation D-SLRs at very high ISOs. You can now get very good results at ISO values up to 3200 and even higher with full frame D-SLRs. Such high ISO values allow you to use high shutter speeds which were simply impossible when one was using film. The second advancement is the shake reduction technology that we will see shortly.
There is also a limitation that arises due to the weight of the lenses. This will depend on the physical ability of an individual and hence this will vary from person to person. In any case (unless you are also a weightlifter apart from being a photographer J) fatigue could set in after a while making your hands a bit unsteady and this will manifest itself as unsharp images.
During the last decade technologies that stabilize the image compensating against the hand shake have come into the market and it is not an exaggeration to say that these have brought in a major revolution in photography. These which go by commercial names like VR (vibration reduction), IS (image stabilization), OS (optical stabilization), etc., allow you photograph up to 4 stops of slower shutter speed than what your rule of thumb recommends! This feature thus gives a tremendous advantage when photographing in low light and/or long lenses.
Important: Remember that this technology compensates for your hand shake. It will do nothing to stop a moving subject! If you want to stop a moving subject like bird in flight, a racing car, etc., then you must use a fast shutter speed. There is simply no other way!
Portraits with telephoto lenses: Portraits are a favorite subject for almost everyone – from casual photographers to world famous professionals. When one is photographing a tight head portrait where the face occupies most of the frame, it is necessary to maintain a certain distance from the subject. If you ignore this and take such a portrait from a close distance, protruding features of a human (like nose, ears) can look abnormally large due to the exaggerated perspective that arises due to the short subject distance. So, you need to maintain a minimum distance from the subject to make the perspective more pleasing. Since you will move farther away and at the same time will need a frame filling image, you need to use a lens with a longer focal length. Short telephoto lenses with focal lengths from 85mm to 105mm (when you use a 35mm or a full frame D-SLR) are best suited for this purpose and are popularly known as “portrait” lenses. If you are using an APS-C sensor D-SLR the focal lengths of choice for portrait lenses are from 50mm to 85mm. Such lenses allow you a proper subject distance for a good perspective and at the same time allow certain intimacy with the subject as you will be reasonably close. You can also take portraits with a 600mm lens but then you will be yards away and unless you shout your instructions the subject will not be able to hear! This destroys the intimacy that was referred to.
Advantage of Cropped Sensors when using telephoto lenses: Cropped sensors (like APS-C and 4/3 sensor cameras) have a disadvantage as they cannot get most out of wide angle lenses as the angle of view reduces (narrows) by the crop factor. Thus, a wide angle lens will cover less of an area on a APS-C sensor camera than it would on a full frame camera. However, this same property will be useful when using a telephoto lens as now the reduced angle will be beneficial. Though not exactly the same, it is as if you have mounted a tele-converter of 1.5X when you mount a lens on an APS-C sensor camera. An added advantage is that there is no loss of lens speed as it would happen when you use a tele-converter. Just to recap, the focal length will not change. Only the angle of view will. So the next question is if this is so, why manufacturers can’t make cameras with very small sensors so as get a very narrow angle of view. Yes, this is being done in many bridge (prosumer) cameras but remember there are number of factors that inhibit this. First and the foremost is that as sensors become smaller the image quality will go down due to higher noise, poor low light performance and lesser dynamic range. Thus, it is not possible to make sensors very small and yet maintain high quality images. Present day cameras with APS-C sensors are an excellent compromise between these opposing needs giving the best of the both worlds.
Super-Tele Bridge (Prosumer) Cameras: With the present level of technology, it is possible to design lenses with astonishing zoom ratios. At present (as this goes to press) you can get a bridge camera with a zoom ratio of 30. A lens with such a high zoom ratio would be difficult or even impossible to design and manufacture for a large sensor (at least with the present level of technology). Hence, these super zoom cameras have small sensors. Let us look at one example. This camera has a zoom ratio of 30. Based on the angle of view, this corresponds (as per the specifications) to a focal length of 24mm to 720mm on a full frame camera! But what is the actual focal length range of the lens? You will be surprised that it is just 4.2mm to 126mm giving a zoom ratio of 30. The main point is that this camera has a very small sensor which is about 6 times smaller than a full frame camera. Such a small sized sensor would have severe limitations in terms of noise and dynamic range not to mention poor low light performance. Also, the autofocus of such cameras is very slow and hence it will be very difficult to catch action. Thus, even though the focal length range is very attractive and the camera will cost just a small fraction of a super telephoto lens, its applications are rather limited. Nevertheless, they are good value for money. If you keep in mind the limitations and adapt your photographing techniques accordingly (like photographing static subjects in bright light for example), these cameras are capable of delivering high quality images.
To conclude, telephoto lenses present their own unique set of challenges just as wide angle lenses do. Unless you keep the camera and lens absolutely steady you will get unsharp results. As usual practice helps you master the techniques needed to get excellent images. And don’t forget to take the help of your three legged friend (the tripod) for best results!