So What’s With ISO?

I was talking to a friend yesterday when she asked what’s with ISO?

ISO relates to the sensitivity of the sensor in digital cameras.

It replaces the old ASA settings we used when we were shooting film.

Back in the film days photographers shot film with the lowest ASA possible for the shot.

The original Kodachrome had an ASA of 10! Film with an ASA of 10 was capable of producing a nearly grainless image.

In comparison today’s digital cameras have sensors which can produce the same nearly grainless image (with some help from photo editing software) with ISOs of 1,600 and higher.

ISO and ASA numbers are directly comparable.

When it came to film you were stuck shooting at the same ASA setting for every frame on the roll. With digital sensors we can change the ISO for every individual image. But the same recommendation to use the lowest ISO possible for the shot still applies if you are looking for grainless images. Digital cameras are so good at shooting virtually perfect images that there is software you can buy which will introduce a grainy look.

That’s what’s with ISO!


Card Errors

Okay so I got two 64-gig SD memory cards for the princely sum of $50 each at Future Shop.

Amazing. Each card will hold a 1000 or so raw files and tens of thousands of JPGs at smaller sizes.

But they won’t run in my Canon videocameras 😦  (Canon videocameras has issues with some class 10 cards.)

Now I knew that when I bought the cards and the sales guy even warned me but I thought what the heck 64 gigs for $50 it’s a steal. And they are. The cards work fine in my Nikon D-90 and Olympus Pens.

But and there’s always a but….But for some jobs they’re not the best choice.

I’m shooting a runway fashion show on the weekend and that means shooting in high-speed bursts and $50 cards are not going to be able to keep up.

Cards come in three (0r more these days) speeds. I rate them as cheap, expensive and really expensive. Just kidding 🙂 but it’s true.

In real terms cards come in slow, medium and fast speeds. Increasing the speed of the card (and the cost) allows the camera to run faster in burst modes and allows for a larger number of images to be captured before the memory card cache fills up.

Now for most average shooters cheap, slow cards are perfect. Buy as many as you want. I now buy 8- and 16-gig cards whenever I see them on sale ($20-$30 or so). They aren’t fast at this price but for 99% of my shooting they’re perfect.

Here’s a tip: Always buy name-brand cards such as Sandisk or Lexar. Avoid no-name discount store cards as they can be unreliable.

But if you’re shooting sports, birds in flight or models on a runway buy 16 GB cards such as SanDisk’s Extreme Pros and get out your wallet. These cards run at what’s called 300X speed (shown on the card as 45MB/s just to confuse things). They sell for around $70-$90 and are worth every penny. Again don’t be fooled by another SanDisk 45MB/s card which looks like the Pro but sells for under $20 which means it can’t be running as fast as the pro IMHO.

A lesser card 16 GB sold under the name PNY on Amazon goes for $18 but runs at less than half the speed. And don’t let the word professional which appears on the card fool you. Everybody says their card is a “professional” card.

Here’s a reality check: A really really good fast 64-GB card (95MB/s which equals 300X speed) sells for around $250 but it will let me shoot runway models for hours and hours.

BTW if you’re shooting with one of the newer full-frame cameras with their FX-size sensors and abilities to capture 25 or 30 plus megabyte raw files you’re going to need robust, fast and expensive cards of the best quality from name-brand manufacturers.

How to shoot HDR

After the great weekend workshop with Rick Sammon I’m now an expert in HDR photography!

Okay maybe not an expert but at least I know my way around thanks to Rick. If you get a chance to take a Rick Sammon workshop or go on one of his photo vacation trips I’d highly recommend it regardless of your level of expertise.

So what do you need to start?

First you need a camera that either has a manual or aperture mode. It’s nice if your camera has the ability to shoot in bracketing mode. A camera that can bracket shoots three or more frames each time you push the button. Each frame is taken at a different exposure and the images are processed and combined in your HDR software.

But shooting in manual mode with a tripod using your self-timer or remote cable or wireless device you can shoot as many different of exposures of the same image as you wish. The big trick is not to move the camera from frame to frame and to adjust the shutter speed and not the aperture (which would change the depth of field from frame to frame).

If you do have auto bracketing, you can often hand hold your camera and fire off a burst of three, four or five frames and let the software stitch the images together (slightly out of registration images can be properly aligned automatically by most HDR software packages). It’s amazing how good the software is and how it will allow you to shoot at shutter speeds below what you would normally think possible.well

The secret of HDR photography is it allows us to shoot images which capture an extended range of exposure. This extended range makes the images look super-real which is one of the great complaints against HDR in that it makes the images look overly done. But it doesn’t have to be that way. HDR can be used very subtly to create really wonderful shots.



More HDR

I’ve uploaded a smattering of HDR images and a few of Morgan, the model we shot at the Rick Sammon HDR workshop in Kitchener.

HDR is easy to shoot and easier to process using NIK’s HDR Pro 2 software.

Essentially it comes down to this:

Shoot five images either on manual or aperture priority changing the exposure from really dark, to dark, to right on, to light, to really light. In this way you expose of the highlights, the shadows and the mid-range tones. Pop the five images into HDR PRO 2 (or let Lightroom do it for you), push the create button and stand back. Depending on the speed of your processor, your image will be created in HDR and you can use Pro 2’s presets to create your own fabulous HDR images.

Not everyone is thrilled (some shoot only HDR) with the HDR look but it’s fun and allows for some pretty interesting shots. A couple of the old vehicle images were shot using a tripod with the low-end time exposures around 20 seconds or more.

I like the look and I love cranking up the filters and effects. HDR is pretty much the polar opposite of shooting black and white photojournalism which I did for some many years.

If you ever get a chance to take a Rick Sammon course I highly recommend doing so. Rick travels all around the world conducting photo tours and his images and, more importantly, his student’s images are terrific.

Here’s the link to my gallery site where I’m uploading some of the images I shot from the weekend.

HDR Wonderland

The Rick Sammon HDR workshop held in Kitchener this weekend was a huge success.

Rick is a 4-star instructor. He’s interested in his students getting great photos (unlike another “name-brand” instructor I suffered earlier this year at a one-day workshop). He knows his stuff and he knows how to teach it.

Best of all, I think everyone got outstanding photos from the two-day event that featured shooting with models (the organizers found Morgan who can’t be 20 yet on the Internet and she was both beautiful and blessed with a friendly, lovely personality. This kid worked hard and the camera just eats her up.) and shooting high-dynamic range (HDR) images at a massive auto wreaking yard north of Milton.

If you ever get a chance to take a workshop with Rick, do it. You’ll learn tons of new stuff (I did) and you’ll come back with great photos (more to come).

Manfrotto Steps Up

I love my Manfrotto carbon-fibre tripod. Light, sturdy and affordable it’s my go-to tripod especially when going on vacation.

But Manfrotto is becoming much more than just a tripod manufacturer. Their website is being a wonderful place to learn how to shoot like the pros. For example, I’m watching an amazing webinar (which will be archived on the Manfrotto site) by British art photographer Steve Gosling.

Steve shoots with DSLRs, Leicas and …wait for it…the Olympus Pens!

Now why is this so neat. Well I have two Pens (EPL-2 and an EPL-1 which I got cheap when Henry’s dropped the price to basement levels in order to move stock to make room for newer “better” models) and I am planning on buying a third (either the OM-D or the EPL-5. (The photo was taken with a Pen of a Metro station in Washington D.C. and worked on in Lightroom 4. The original shot came out very yellow due to the lighting so white balance was changed to produce this image.)

Steve gets results I can only dream of using consumer-grade Pens and a ton of talent.

So this means I need to be shooting more and not waiting for commercial jobs (I’m doing a high-end fashion show on the weekend and I’ll be using the Nikons and fast lenses and higher ISOs (due to lighting or lack thereof that I’m expecting) and will likely shoot a thousand or more frames which I’ll pop into Lightroom 4.

So what’s the lesson here? Don’t let your photo equipment limit your thinking 🙂 let alone your shooting!

Lightroom – How To…

I’m writing this post for a friend of mine who is starting to shoot weddings and needs a list of what to do and the top features of LR and how to use them right now!

So, in point form, here we go:

When Shooting

  • shoot in raw no matter what you’re told or what you’ve read
  • read my post on how to get the best exposure (see below)
  • failing that shoot in program mode (aperture if you know how and why) with auto white balance and an ISO between 200-400 (1600 only in emergencies)
  • learn how and when to use your flash
  • get in closer
  • shoot at eye level
  • fill the frame with image you want
  • if I could only have one lens it would be a fast 35mm f/1.4 or f/1.8

How To Download Your Images (Here’s how I do it.)

  • turn your camera off and take the memory card out
  • put the memory card into a card reader
  • if any software says something like “Hey you’ve got images. Want me to download them?” say no
  • drag the folder into an external hard drive
  • rename the folder using a standard format that you’ll remember (event – date)
  • do the same for all memory cards of the event
  • back these images up by dragging the folders to a second external hard drive

Working with LR

  • Once all your images are safely stored in folders on at least two external hard drives fire up LR
  • Setup your default catalog on one of the external hard drives
  • Setup your Camera Raw Cache Settings to be another folder on the external hard drive
  • (notice we aren’t storing anything on your computer’s hard drive)
  • (I purposely haven’t automated LR to ingest images and automatically store them)

The Library Module

  • Now go to the Library module and import your images from your #1 external hard drive
  • In Library you can see your images in grid or individually
  • I do a first edit of keepers (one star or a colour) which usually reduces the number of images by a half or more
  • Depending on how you work, you can do some basic development changes to one or all (batch processes) of your picked images

The Develop Module

  • I bring my picks into Develop and I usually do a second round to editing keepers (200 or so get two stars)
  • I normally develop each image individually often using presets to speed things up 🙂
  • I also use NIK’s Colour Efex Pro 4 filters, Silver Efex Pro 2, NIK’s HDR Pro and OnOne’s Perfect Portrait and now Layers for LR where appropriate
  • I need to learn to automate this process more and has videos ($99) of Jared Platt showing how this is done (I bought the videos and they’re great)
  • I calibrate my monitor using a Spyder Pro 3
  • I set the white balance, the white and black sliders if there’s a spike at either end of the histogram, exposure and clarity, vibrance and saturation as needed
  • I often add a vignette and if necessary I reduce the noise using the noise slider which on LR 3 and 4 is amazing
  • finally under the File menu I export a full-size JPG to a folder in my computer’s Pictures folder (using the popup which sets a whole bunch of parameters for your image) which is appropriately named


  • after all the JPGs are in their folder I burn a DVD of the folder plus I upload a copy of the images to my SmugMug gallery for either client view and/or long term storage
  • I take the JPG folder on my computer and move and copy it to the two external hard drives in the folders that hold the raw images
  • and then I call the client 🙂