Tips for Shooting and Processing Better Black and White Photographs

Photography, as you know, is fundamentally the capturing of light; you are not taking pictures of objects as much as you are recording the light that is bouncing off of them. In the early days of photography, the only medium available to capture this light was monochromatic film, commonly known as black and white. In the 1930s, the invention of Kodachrome, the first successfully mass-produced color film, ushered in an age of color to the art form.

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Instead of fading away, however, black and white photography remained throughout the birth of color, and even increased in popularity in the following decades, due to its simplicity and ability to display tones more dramatically than color usually can.

What makes black and white photography retain its timelessness? A compelling picture is always based on the same fundamentals; lighting, tonal range, shapes, patterns and textures. A black and white photo breaks these fundamentals down to their basics, and is not hindered by the distraction and complexity that color can sometimes contribute. It is truly an art form. The reality of a scene depicted in color is transformed into an artistic interpretation when shown in shades of grey.

So what do you need to understand in order to produce a great monochrome photo?

Visualize in Black and White

One of the most helpful things you can do is something that takes place before you even click the shutter button. Training yourself to envision a scene in black and white will help determine if it will work in that state, or if it would be better left to color. Since you won’t have color in the final shot, you’ll need to visualize the core of the scene instead:

  • How is the light behaving on the objects in the scene?
  • What forms are involved?
  • Are there lights, darks, and shades in between, giving you a good tonal range?

Scenes that contain contrast and texture will usually provide a good end result when converted to black and white. Fortunately, you can apply monochrome to almost any type of photography, including landscape, portrait, and street photography. The resulting feel of the image depends on the subject; landscape shots of the ocean will have more highlighted textures of the waves, and street portraits done in black and white can have a grittier, more dramatic feel.

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Taking the Shot

Many of the basic principles of photography apply when shooting for black and white as well. You’ll need to compose the scene properly, utilizing the rule of thirds where applicable, and properly expose the shot. As always, you’ll want to shoot in RAW, so that any necessary adjustments can be made such as exposure and levels before you begin post-processing.

When composing, pay special attention to the lines and shapes in the image. These components are even more important when the photo is desaturated.

Finally, you may benefit from using a polarizing filter. This lens attachment will reduce, or remove, reflections that may be apparent in water or other shiny surfaces. Since these reflections could take away focus from your subject matter, it’s best to do this during the shooting process rather than post-production.

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The most important step in this process is actually converting the shot into black and white. While almost all DSLRs have the ability to shoot in black and white initially, you’re losing an important advantage; the photo will permanently be monochrome. Photographers sometimes think that a poor image can somehow be “saved” by being converted into black and white; this is not always the case. If you shoot in JPG format and the black and white (monochrome) setting on your camera, you’ll be producing a black and white JPG image, and lose the ability to convert to color or take advantage of RAW adjustments. BUT if you shoot in RAW in this mode you will still have all the colour data but have the advantage of seeing a black and white preview on the camera screen.

Black and white conversions in an image editor such as Photoshop can usually be categorized in two ways; destructive, and non-destructive. Obviously, destructive methods actually modify pixels and cannot be easily adjusted. Converting directly to greyscale is a long-used example of this method. Preferably, you want to use a non-destructive method that will allow you to make continued adjustments to the image until you have the tone and shading desired.

The easiest method (and the one that I prefer) is to use the Hue/Saturation/Luminosity tab in the RAW importer in Photoshop (the HSL panel in Lightroom also does the same thing). Alternatively, you can accomplish the same thing (albeit with a bit less control) by using a Channel Mixer adjustment layer after you’ve imported the RAW file into Photoshop.

Converting to Black and White with the RAW HSL Controls

Not only does this method offer more control than simply desaturating the image, it keeps the color profile loaded into the RAW (.CR2) file, allowing you to reopen and adjust it as you see fit. To convert using this method follow these steps:

  • Select the RAW file you wish to convert and open it. The file will open within Adobe’s RAW import dialog.

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  • Click the HSL/Greyscale tab on the right side of the dialog box (this should be the 4th tab).

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  • Tick the “Convert to Greyscale” box.

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  • You will be presented with eight color sliders. Adjust these sliders individually (ensure the “Preview” checkbox is ticked near the top) to see real-time changes in those color channels, and how those changes impact your desaturated image. With a color image, moving the “yellow” slider would modify the yellow in your image, but here, it will make the portions of the image that were yellow change in shading, either lighter or darker depending on which direction the slider is moved.

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That’s it, you’re all done. Few accomplishments in photography are as satisfying as producing a well-done black and white image. You have discarded color, and envisioned your story instead with shapes, lines, shadows, and textures. You’ve opened up a new world of imagery to yourself, and exponentially expanded your repertoire.

Now…what will you do with it? Share in the comments below if you have anything to add or would like to show us your new black and white images.

The post Tips for Shooting and Processing Better Black and White Photographs by Tim Gilbreath appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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What Life Lessons Can Teach You About Photography


Image of my new crazy family by Mia McCloy

A few months ago I got married. (Confetti! Streamers! Cake if you have it!) In doing this, I took on a gorgeous husband and three darling stepdaughters. Add my two adorable sons to the mix and you end up with a total of seven people sharing a couple of bathrooms, a kitchen, and the lion’s share of my patience. All of a sudden things like meal planning and buying in bulk have gone from concepts I’ve heard about to the only thing keeping me out of an inpatient treatment facility. To spare my sanity and enable me to do a hundred loads of laundry each day, everything in my life has been streamlined either by necessity or default including my photography business.

While it’s a continuous progression I realized the other day, when I was folding a mountain of clothes remembering a simpler time, that I am turning-out some of my best work in over a decade of being a professional photographer. I have to assume this is partly from streamlining everything from my shooting style to my editing process, and partly because my personal life changes have forced my professional life to adapt as well. So far, all for the better if you don’t count the laundry thing. I love them madly but having five children isn’t for everyone. In the event you don’t want to take on a small army of kids as a social experiment just to see if it improves your photography, here are some lessons I’ve learned recently and how you can apply it to your own photography.

What life lessons can teach you about photography


Work is more meaningful and balanced

This sounds so lovely but really it’s just a byproduct of my continuous lack of time. In the past, any image that caught my eye for any reason at all would be subjected to editing and delivery to the client. This would add hours to each job I took on. Now only the really, really good stuff ever sees the light of day, or my client’s eyeballs. Images that once would have gotten ten minutes of editing just because I saw one tiny bit of pretty in it, are now trashed because I know they will only bring down the finished product as a whole. I shoot with more purpose because I am on time constraints I never had before.

Are my clients suffering? No. They are getting quality over quantity.

Also, hearing “BUT THAT’S NOT FAIR!” roughly a thousand times a day puts fairness in a whole new perspective. It also puts having children in a whole new perspective, but that’s another ball of wax–unidentifiable and likely stuck to my kitchen floor.

It used to be that I had no real office hours. I shot when my schedule allowed and when the clients needed. I edited late at night after kids were asleep. I answered emails when I got around to it. I took every advantage of working from home one could. Don’t get me wrong–spending all day in yoga pants is still a giant perk, but now I have office hours. I return emails as soon as possible, even if that means from my phone, while waiting in the carpool lane at one of the three different schools at which I drop-off and pick-up children. I don’t see the sunrise at the end of my workday anymore because frankly I’m way too tired to stay up past 10 p.m. now. My clients are getting every ounce of me they deserve. But my photography business is no longer claiming my very soul. It’s fair for everyone.

TIP: Don’t let photography take over your life.

This goes for hobbyists and professionals alike. The work/life balance has always been a tough one for me, but as cliché as it sounds, we all need to reevaluate honestly and often. Shoot what you can, edit when you can, deliver where you can. Contrary to every photography quote I’ve ever heard, shots can be missed–there are a million more opportunities for an amazing picture tomorrow.


Learn how to say no

It used to be that if you asked me nicely, I would take on about any assignment. Taking pictures of houses even though I don’t have the equipment, or know-how, real estate photography requires? You bet! Do some product photography for your best friend sister’s boyfriend’s cousin? Sign me up! You want a professional photographer to hang-out with on Saturday mornings for your kid’s little league games? Of course I will! Now, not so much.

Not only do I not have that kind of time, I don’t have the desire. I’m spending all of the “doing-something-I-don’t-want-to-do” time I can spare chaperoning middle school field trips and taking kids to dentists, doctors, play dates, and street corners with “Free To Good Home” signs. I don’t want to do real estate, product, sport, or a dozen other types of photography. I want to do the kind of photography I’m good, at and the kind that I enjoy doing. On the flip side of that coin, I just can’t do favors like I used to. The line for a minute of my time now starts here and goes back quite a ways. I allow people to cut the line all the time, so you’ll be there a while waiting.

TIP: Just say no!

When in your gut it doesn’t seem like a job you want or can do, when the idea isn’t exciting or fun on any level, when you have to work with people that make you miserable, say no. When you are overwhelmed, behind and feel like taking on one more thing may break you, say no. When you are asked to do something that offers you no benefit, not even warm, fuzzy feelings, say no.


Say “Thank You” more often

I’ll be honest–I have no idea where this comes from; perhaps me attempting to model good manners for five kids who are all allergic to the word “please”. Regardless it’s a great lesson. It used to be that when I was complimented for my photography I would immediately detract; it’s not that I’m a good photographer, it’s that I have really beautiful clients. It’s not that an image is exceptional, it’s that I got lucky. It’s that I have an amazing lens. It’s that I have a great camera. It’s that perfect light just happened. It’s anything but me. It has taken 10 years but I am finally able to just say, “Thank You”.

The truth is that I do have a great camera, live in a beautiful place of the world that allows for ideal background settings, and have really beautiful clients. But I’m also a really good photographer. I can find light, work a complicated camera to my every advantage, put people at ease, and edit a diamond in the rough (image) to perfection. As uncomfortable as it still is for me to say that, it must be true because I’ve been doing this a while and people continue to hire me. Lots of photographers have these same talents, and more, and it’s important that we (you as well) start realizing that they are in fact talents and not just random acts of luck.

TIP: When someone compliments your work say, “Thank you!” with a big smile, and nothing more.

If this is something you’ve struggled with, it will feel unnatural. Keep doing it anyway. Saying an honest thank you is one of the nicest things you can do in the face of a compliment. Explaining why you think you are not deserving of it is one of the rudest.  


Play to your strengths

Having so many people need me (and only me) has redefined my objective. Much like saying no to photography jobs that are not well suited for my skill set, I have been pickier taking on jobs that are in my wheelhouse. Family photography falls into my lap often and most of the time it’s a perfect match for me. My love-hate relationship with weddings however has finally come to a close; weddings are no longer something I will do. Neither is endless editing to achieve fancy vintage (and similar) toning. My clients get a fun and spontaneous shooting atmosphere and final images in straightforward color or black and white. It’s my very best, and most honest work.

TIP: Try new things when it makes sense.

Challenge yourself when necessary, but play to your strengths–you’re good at them for a reason.


Charge what you’re worth

Just like having a business partner forces accountability, having a personal partner makes me look at the big picture. At the end of the day, photography is my job. It’s how I make my living. There are glamorous and fun sides (though not near as many as people think), and there are dirty and gloomy sides too, just like any job. I can’t work for free. Granted I have pro bono projects I take on (my heart, it bleeds), although I now do them much more selectively, and when I know it will benefit me in the long run either with new business or free marketing.

Gone are the days when I could take on a very low-paying project with no other benefit just because it seemed like fun. I’m finally charging what I’m worth, I’m no longer part of that deadly middle ground of charging too much to be a good deal, and not enough to be considered any good. I read a while back that as soon as you could no longer afford yourself, you were charging enough. At the time I passed it off as greedy and mean-spirited but I have to say: friends, I’ve come to the dark side and the water is fine. The clients that can afford me, do. The ones that can’t? They save up until they can, or they are careful to take advantage of my rare sales. I haven’t lost clients and bigger than that, my work has more value.

TIP: Evaluate your pricing.

Consider everything from wear-and-tear of your equipment to your electric bill that keeps your computer running into the wee hours of the morn. There’s a good chance you aren’t charging what your are worth, if only because it’s hard to make that jump and put a dollar figure on something that used to be a hobby, or something people consider art. I promise you though, if you’re not going to charge, someone else will. So while I consider my business as personal as it comes, it’s still a business. Besides, it takes a lot of laundry detergent to keep my new family of seven in clean clothes.

What other things have you experienced in life that have helped you learn something about your photography? What other tips do you have? Please share in the comments below.

The post What Life Lessons Can Teach You About Photography by Lynsey Mattingly appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Micro Four Thirds vs DSLR Camera Considerations

Warm greetings to my fellow Photography Life readers! My name is Sharif and I am the photographer behind Alpha Whiskey Photography. I have been very kindly asked by Nasim to write an article for Photography Life, which has proved to be an excellent resource for photographers all over our planet. Nasim specifically invited me to write about my experience with my Olympus Micro Four Thirds mirrorless camera, the lenses I choose to use with it, and why I prefer it to my DSLR system, along with some examples of images I have produced with it.

Panasonic 20mm F/1.7, ISO 200 , Virtually the first image I shot with my EM-5

Panasonic 20mm f/1.7, ISO 200, Virtually the first image I shot with my EM-5

While I would be the first to assert that photographic equipment has little to do with the creative process behind seeing and constructing a worthwhile image, we have to accept it does have some influence in how we capture it.

Panasonic 14mm F/1.7, ISO 200, 20 secs. Waterfall Country, Wales.

Panasonic 14mm f/1.7, ISO 200, 20 secs. Waterfall Country, Wales.

Nasim has rightly said that many people will buy expensive and bulky equipment that they don’t necessarily need, and then try to justify it to themselves. In a sense, I have gone the other way, downsizing my gear, and hopefully I can explain the value of doing so.

Panasonic 20mm F/1.7, ISO 200, 2 secs

Panasonic 20mm f/1.7, ISO 200, 2 secs. More info.

Having used DSLRs for quite a few years, a twist of fate led me to the world of mirrorless last year, and I haven’t looked back. After photographing some birds of prey with my Nikon D600 and Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8, both that camera and lens fell out of my open camera bag, and the weight of the lens drove the camera body into the parking lot gravel. Hard! And even though Nikon repaired the camera free of charge, it took them six weeks and that’s an eternity for any photographer to be without a camera. My sister’s wedding was soon approaching and, of course, I was the designated photographer. I needed a camera!

Panasonic 14mm F/1.7, ISO 200, 0.8 secs hand-held

Panasonic 14mm f/1.7, ISO 200, 0.8 secs hand-held. More info.

So I used the opportunity to act on my growing desire for a smaller system. I had been looking for something lighter and more compact but still packing enough quality, and which didn’t feel like I was hauling a space shuttle up Mount Everest every time I went out to shoot; preferably a world away from the massive, cumbersome camera bags with a ton of gear compressing my spine.

Panasonic 14mm F/1.7, ISO 2500, 1/50 secs

Panasonic 14mm f/1.7, ISO 2500, 1/50 secs. More info.

After all the inevitable research, I purchased the Olympus EM-5 and three primes: the Olympus 45mm f/1.8, the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7, and the Panasonic 14mm f/2.8.

Panasonic 14mm F/1.7, ISO 200, 0.8 secs hand-held

Panasonic 14mm f/1.7, ISO 200, 0.8 secs hand-held. More info.

The EM-5 was a revelation to me; it was the perfect blend of size and quality. The newer Olympus EM-1 approaches DSLR size, which I was trying to get away from; and the smaller PEN cameras were too small for me and lacked a viewfinder. The feature set of the EM-5 was actually useful, not simply a glut of gimmicks and megapixels to look good on a spec sheet. It was as if someone sat down and thought about what a photographer might really need for the shooting experience.

Olympus 45mm F/1.8, ISO 200. My friend Genka.

Olympus 45mm f/1.8, ISO 200. My friend Genka.

Furthermore, the available lens options for the Micro 4/3 system are vast, with access to both Olympus’s and Panasonic’s inventory, much of which is excellent.

Olympus 60mm F/2.8, ISO 200, My friend, Jena, a great photographer herself.

Olympus 60mm f/2.8, ISO 200, My friend, Jena, a great photographer herself.

My two favorite features on the EM-5, which helped clinch my decision to purchase it, include the excellent image stabilization, allowing me to make exposures as slow as 1 second hand-held! This means I can take night shots or slow down waterfalls without a tripod. And as I enjoy taking long exposures at dusk, the Live Time feature, which allows you to see the exposure developing on the LCD, is a fantastic time saver. I no longer have to wait to see the result and then take it again at a different shutter speed.

Olympus 60mm F/2.8, ISO 200. Heron in Regent’s Park, London.

Olympus 60mm f/2.8, ISO 200. Heron in Regent’s Park, London.

The real surprise, however, was the terrific quality of the sensor, complemented by the superb lenses. Yes, the sensor is smaller than FF or APS-C sensors, but I have printed images made at ISO 6400 and they look great. The noise pattern and dynamic range of the RAW files are excellent in my humble opinion. Many people obsess over noise, but it has never really bothered me. If anything, it adds an aesthetic texture to (especially black and white) images.

Olympus 60mm F/2.8, ISO 800

Olympus 60mm f/2.8, ISO 800. More info.

Depth of field is another issue for some, and while I love the creamy DOF from my FX Nikon and primes, Olympus make some beautiful fast glass, such as the 45mm f/1.8 (which I used almost exclusively on the London photo walk with Nasim) and the 60mm f/2.8 macro, both of which have excellent sharpness and beautiful bokeh.

Olympus 60mm F/2.8, ISO 200. Richmond Park, London.

Olympus 60mm f/2.8, ISO 200. Richmond Park, London.

One disadvantage of the Micro 4/3 system in contrast to DSLRs is the continuous AF. While fast for static subjects, the AF on these cameras can struggle with moving subjects. It is possible to achieve focus on a moving subject, but it often involves pre-focusing and a little luck. Certainly, not the hit rate of a DSLR.

Olympus 45mm F/1.8, ISO 200

Olympus 45mm f/1.8, ISO 200. More info.

Additionally, I occasionally miss ultra wide shooting with my DSLR, and I’m waiting for Olympus to bring out its 7-14mm f/2.8 so I can get back to some wide-angle fun!

Olympus 60mm F/2.8, ISO 200. View from Cam Peak, Gloucestershire.

Olympus 60mm f/2.8, ISO 200. View from Cam Peak, Gloucestershire.

The Panasonic 14mm is a great little fast pancake lens, and some of the images I have made with it have been published in magazines and leaflets. But I have since sold it and acquired the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8, which is wider at the wide end, and has less distortion and chromatic aberration. I have happily taken and shot with my three primes overseas and all over the UK, but the 12-40mm will make a great travel lens, albeit bulkier. I am keeping the Olympus 45mm f/1.8, which is excellent, and may keep the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 simply because of the fast aperture and its amenability to street photography. The Olympus 60mm f/2.8 macro makes an excellent portrait lens without forfeiting AF speed like most macro lenses.

Olympus 45mm F/1.8, ISO 6400. Not a bad result for such a high ISO.

Olympus 45mm f/1.8, ISO 6400. Not a bad result for such a high ISO.

It does seem that my lens choices are slowly making the system bulkier again, especially as I hope to acquire the impending Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 and 7-14mm f/2.8, but remember these are all much smaller than their DSLR counterparts, and would only be used for specific subjects. The bulk of my shooting is done with the small primes, since having a compact kit makes shooting more efficient, more challenging, and more enjoyable.

Panasonic 20mm F/1.7, ISO 500, 0.4 secs hand-held

Panasonic 20mm f/1.7, ISO 500, 0.4 secs hand-held. More info.

Despite the few limitations of these systems, I can see myself eventually selling off all my remaining DSLR gear and sticking to mirrorless. For my hobbyist needs, and increasingly the needs of many professionals, it has proved itself capable of excellent quality in a smaller package, and I can see mirrorless cameras becoming ever more popular.

Panasonic 20mm F/1.7, ISO 5000, 7-shot composite. Thanks to the EM-5’s burst rate.

Panasonic 20mm f/1.7, ISO 5000, 7-shot composite. Thanks to the EM-5’s burst rate.

As much as I stress the importance of composition, framing, timing and skill, I hope my photographs demonstrate (perhaps reassure) what can be achieved with this system and the range of subjects it can be used for, and perhaps even save a few more compressed spines and achy arms along the way.

Panasonic 14mm F/1.7, ISO 200, Pirin Mountains, Bulgaria.

Panasonic 14mm f/1.7, ISO 200, Pirin Mountains, Bulgaria.

It has been a privilege to write for Photography Life, and I hope you enjoy my photographs.

Olympus 45mm F/1.8, ISO 200

Olympus 45mm f/1.8, ISO 200. More info.

Warmest Regards,

Olympus 45mm F/1.8, ISO 200

Olympus 45mm f/1.8, ISO 200. More info.

Panasonic 14mm F/1.7, ISO 1000

Panasonic 14mm f/1.7, ISO 1000. More info.

Panasonic 14mm F/1.7, ISO 200

Panasonic 14mm f/1.7, ISO 200. More info.

Panasonic 20mm F/1.7, ISO 200

Panasonic 20mm f/1.7, ISO 200. More info.

Olympus 60mm F/2.8, ISO 1600

Olympus 60mm f/2.8, ISO 1600

Alpha Whiskey has pursued his enjoyment of photography both at home in the UK and overseas, capturing scenic views from Alaska to Bulgaria, from Iceland to California. He has pointed his camera and trained his eye at almost every subject, from wildlife to architecture, from portraits to landscapes, from the Red Bull X-Fighters to the Northern Lights. His photographs have been published on the covers of national publications and within media for the National Trust. His blog is a growing library of images from his travels, excursions, and his photowalks with friends, and he hopes that by sharing them he can encourage others to worry less about gear and simply go out and shoot.

The post Micro Four Thirds vs DSLR Camera Considerations appeared first on Photography Life.

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D800 vs D4s For Wildlife in Low Light & Long Lenses

For whatever reason most of the wildlife photography I do ends up being in less than desirable conditions. Its rare that I get that perfect light, with the animal perfectly posed and the weather just right and me in the right place and time to capture it. A lot of times I am in the right place, but all the other elements needed seem like they are on the extreme limits of what is needed for quality photography.  I recently had the opportunity to photograph black bears here in New Hampshire and one thing that a person not from NH must understand is that this is not like going to Yellowstone or some similar place where the bears are more receptive to humans. Here in NH they are the ghosts of the woods, the animal you never hear while hiking or rarely see unless its by accident and then its for seconds before they disappear. I was able to use both the D800 and D4s during this time and I found out some disappointing things about the D800 which has me regretting purchasing it.

Beautiful Wet Female Black Bear

This article is not about bashing the D800, its more about sharing some limitations and quality issues I have with the camera compared to a D4/D4s and how much more capable the D4s is in these extreme shooting conditions. I mistakenly thought I could use the D800 to crop my way to success, only to find out that I was actually not happy with the quality and I chose to rotate the D4s camera between the two long lenses I was using rather than use the D800. This is not a technical article, we lovingly have Nasim for that, this is an article from a photographer sharing his real life experience and readers taking that information, disseminating it and deciding what is useful and helpful to them. I know the D800 has had some glowing reviews and is supposed to be an exceptional camera, but for me it is not the right camera for what I do, and the conditions I shoot in, and long lenses I use.

The 1st image at the beginning of this article is one that I am extremely proud of and find to be of the quality level I need to be happy. It was taken with the D4s and the new Nikkor 800mm f5.6 lens attached, it had just rained and was overcast. It was taken at approximately 1pm in the afternoon. I have set some self imposed limits / target settings for the D4s in this shooting scenario and the two lenses I was using which were:

  • D4s and 800mm F5.6 – min shutter speed 800th sec, max ISO 3200
  • D4s and 600mm F4 – min shutter speed 500th sec, max ISO 3200

As you can see even though this was essentially shot in midday light, because of the overcast conditions to get the 800th of a sec I was looking for with the 800mm lens, 200o ISO was needed. What is remarkable is the quality of the image at 2000 ISO, it is sharp, clean, very little noise and will print beautifully. The conditions were what they were and I cannot change that, that is what I was given and I can tell you that is how it often works, but having a camera that produced a high quality image in those conditions adds a photo I am proud of to my portfolio that I may not have had with another camera. Below is a 100 percent crop from around the eye area of the bear so you can better gauge the end result.

Beautiful Wet Female Black Bear

I have only had the D4s for a relative short period of time and am still learning the cameras limits, I almost treat the D4 (my previous camera) the same as a D4s when talking ISO limits and noise levels. When I had the Nikon D3x I had more or less set myself an ISO limit of 1600 before I was unhappy with the noise in the photo. With the D4/D4s I have now changed that limit to 3200 ISO max when I have no other choice to get that photo.

Beautiful Black Bear Looking over Ledge

Above is a photo shot with the D4s at 3200 ISO, now my preference is definitely not to shoot at that high of an ISO, but the bears did not want to play nice and chose to mostly show themselves around the last hour before sunset and in the place where they were mostly in the shade right near the tree line. I am using the auto ISO feature of the D4s and have the max ISO set to 3200 and minimum shutter speed set to 500th of a sec. Because there was not enough light the camera couldn’t get the 500th of a sec speed I was asking for at 3200 max ISO set in the auto ISO setting, because the max ISO had been reached the camera adjusted the speed below the setting. 400th was ok in this instance because the bear paused and stood stationary for a few seconds. This photo is at the extreme shooting parameters I set for myself, but this photo at 3200 ISO is as good as the photos I was taking with my D3X at 1600 ISO and at noise levels I am ok with.

Beautiful Black Bear with Cub

The above phot0 was taken with the Nikkor 600mm F4 VR attached to the D4s, and I have always had extreme difficulty in getting two sharp sets of eyes using long lenses, luckily the eyes of the two bears are almost in the same plane but I pushed the f-stop to F8 to try and get both eyes sharp. I felt comfortable at 200th of a sec here to keep the ISO down to 2000th because the bears are almost not moving while pausing to stare in my direction.

OK, so we have established I love the D4/D4s at low light, high ISO and poor shooting conditions and that the camera performs amazingly, so what about the D800?

Well I only used the D800 on three nights, looked at the photos and was not happy with the result. Not willing to lose more precious photos to the D800 I stopped using it and chose to only use the D4s. Here are some things I learned about my D800.  Maybe these results are particular to my D800 and maybe I have a bad camera, I don’t know because I don’t have a second D800 to compare to.

  • the D800 does not focus as good in low light as the D4/D4s
  • where I am ok with 3200 ISO max D4/D4s, the D800 max would be 2000 ISO for me
  • the D800 seemed to produce a slightly slower shutter speed for same lens / light scenario
  • the D800 images are not as defined as the D4/ D4s images, they have a softer diffused look

I have seen great sharp images from the D800, so I don’t know if my experience is because of the lens / camera combination or my D800 has issues or it doesn’t perform as well in low light with long lenses. Let me try and show you what I mean with a couple of photo samples.

Beautiful Black Bear with Cub

So this photo is taken with the D800 and the Nikkor 200-400mm F4 VRII lens, which is a superb wildlife lens that has always given me prime lens like results. The first things that I immediately notice is the noise in the image at 2000 ISO and the when I look at the bears eyes, they seem much softer and not as defined (sharp). I also notice the lack of detail in the fur and it seems softer and more blended. Here is a section of the D800 image at 100 percent.

Beautiful Black Bear with Cub

If you clicked on the images to see them large as you were progressing through the article you should have noticed that this last image taken with the D800 is much poorer quality compared to the D4/D4s images. You should notice it has more noise than say some of the D4s images taken at 3200 ISO and that the details just look soft. Let try and do a side by side un-processed comparison.

D4s versus D800 Sample

The above image is not a perfect example, but I didn’t have the ability to photograph the same bear in the same position with the same lens but different cameras, so this is two images taken on different days but close to same pose and light conditions. To me, the D4s image on the right has less noise and more defined details than the D800 image, even though the D4s image is at slightly higher ISO. Its hard to explain unless you have looked at a lot of images taken with the two cameras, because I do have some D4s image that have slightly more noise than I would like or not quite as sharp. Overall the D4/D4s produces better images that look sharper in poor light and less noisy and because I shoot a lot in poor light I don’t want to risk loosing images because of the D800.

D4s versus D800 Sample

Above is another un-processed comparison at same ISO.


I would summarize my findings this way:

The results I get from the D4s are superior to the photos I get from the D800 using similar long lenses and similar low light conditions and because of that I won’t be using the D800 in that scenario. Its hard enough to get wildlife in a great photographable situations without risking getting poorer quality photos because of my camera choice. I have a D4s and because of that its a no brainer for me to use it over the D800. The difficult thing to wrap your mind around is the 16.2MP of the D4/D4s have more quality value to me than having 36.3MP cropping power of the D800. One of my wishes is for a D4s with 24MP capability, that would make a perfect Nikon camera for me, so the D800 was my hope for cropping in closer at times when I need that crop ability. The ability to crop almost half the image out and still get a 300 dpi 8″ x 12″ image is amazing in the D800, but to me it comes at a price I cannot accept. Every pixel of a D4/D4s is a quality pixel and the camera really is an engineering marvel.

I would not use my article to make a camera choice on, rather I would use it as one source of additional information when doing research to choose your next wildlife camera. I said at the beginning that this was not a technical comparison and the reason I said that was because, how do you quantify/measure the look of a photo. I just prefer the look and quality of the images from the D4/D4s over the D800 and the secondary issue that I can’t overcome in my mind is I don’t trust the D800 to get me the kind of images I want.

Hope you find something useful in this article, thanks for reading and remember to get out there and get into it.



The post D800 vs D4s For Wildlife in Low Light & Long Lenses appeared first on Photography Life.

via Photography Life

Assignment 03 :: Shadows

For this assignment we are taking our mind off of lines and repetitive shapes and forms and we are now looking for light. More specifically, we are looking for shadows. It’s difficult to say something like; “Go shoot great quality of light.” What is “great quality of light” anyway? Soft light can have a great quality to it but you can take a horrible photograph in it. Hard light has a great quality to it. You can use hard light to your advantage and hard light can kill your shot.

Shadows are an easier theme and subject to go after. While light is what we are chasing for this assignment you can not forget about lines and form and pattern. You see, there’s a lot to be thinking about when you pull the camera to your face and push the button. Line. Shape. Form. Light. Shadow. Contrast. That’s the short list. That’s just the first second of thoughts in your head. The list grows longer and longer as you work on your craft. These assignments will keep the list growing for sure.

While you are out shooting for this assignment I want you to take a photograph and then examine it. Ask yourself, “Does the shadow make the shot?” or “Do the shadows make the shot?”

Is the photograph a picture of something that has shadows in it? Or do those shadows make the shot? If the shadows aren’t making the shot then try another angle. Come back at another time of day. If you are using lights of any kind to make the shadows then you need to move your light source closer. Or further away. Or change the angle to the subject. Or change your camera angle. Find that intersection where subject, angle, light, and shadow come together to where the shadow makes the shot.

This assignment is open from May 31st to June 14th 2014. This is for NEW work and NEW work only. Make sure the clock on your camera is set correctly! Get the hell out of your archives and go shoot some fresh new photographs. Share your work with us via the DEDPXL communities on Flickr, Google+, or 500px. If you share on 500px please be sure to hashtag  your photos DEDPXL03. We aren’t looking at IG this time around. I’ll probably go there again when I find a better viewing solution for the critiques.

After June 14th Meg and I will do a group critique and then the next assignment will be announced.

What I enjoy most about these is seeing the massive array of photographs that can come from one simple assignment. There’s an assignment coming up where we will all be shooting the same subject matter. It’s going to be really interesting to see how that is approached by so many people. Y’all enjoying these so far?


Tech Note :: The video above was shot with the new Panasonic GH4. It was shot in 4k and edited in 1080. I’m loving this new camera and I’m loving the ability to crop and change the shot while editing. If you notice the jump cuts in the video above those are done using the same piece of footage with zero loss in quality. Since 4k is 200% larger than 1080, you have the ability to cut to a different crop. I’ll be talking about this camera in the next “Moving to Motion” blog post.


Article: 12 Great Digital Cameras for Travel Photography.Cameras have gotten smaller and more portable than ever, while delivering better quality images. Updated for Summer 2014

It’s that time of year…time to get your gear together and hit the road. A new generation of cameras for the well-travelled photographer offers better image quality in smaller and lighter packages. Here’s a look at a dozen cameras that we think are well-suited for travel.

via Adorama Learning Center