I recently put a request on social media for your photography questions. This was under the premise that no inquiry was too basic or advanced. Many of you had similar questions, and I picked the top 9 which I thought would be helpful for everyone to read.
Question 1: I have tried to achieve showing a sense of motion by "Panning" my camera and just have not been successful in doing so. The image was almost completely washed out. What am I doing wrong?
Answer: When you choose a slow shutter speed to pan and show motion, it will allow a great deal of light into the camera, potentially resulting in overexposure. To counter this, you can use a lower ISO like 100, and/or a smaller aperture such as f11, or f16 which would both allow less light in and correct the exposure. Also, to capture quality panning shots you often have to shoot many photos to create the desired effect. Much of it has to do with the speed of the shutter in comparison to the subject's speed. For example, a cyclist riding at 25mph could be panned at 1/60th while a car at 50mph would be a total blur with the same shutter. Of course those are just examples, and you'll need to keep experimenting. Remember to swivel your hips and follow the subject with the camera during the exposure.
Question 2: I set my camera to the AV mode and try to change the aperture using the mode dial but it wont let me get wider then f5.6. It's an 18-55mm lens and I cant figure out what I'm doing wrong. Any ideas?
Answer: Your lens has what's called a variable aperture. This is a common trait on many kit lenses, like the 18-55mm. At 18mm you can open the aperture all the way to f3.5, but when you zoom to 55mm, you will only be able to open up to a maximum aperture of f5.6. Despite these limitations on the maximum aperture, you can still shoot with the whole range of small apertures like f8, f11, f16, f22 regardless of the focal length.
Question 3: No matter what I do I can't seem to get close-ups of birds, from my patio to a hill in the backyard about 20 feet away. I have a Nikon DSLR with a 100-300m lens.
Answer: I do a great deal of bird photography and you are correct, it's not easy. Birds are skittish, and you often need to use a lens of 400mm or longer mounted to a tripod. Like most wildlife photography, it's helpful to remain patient and wait for the right moments while observing quietly through the viewfinder. You may also want to consider looking into a portable blind. This will allow you to get closer without scaring them away. Finally, be sure to wear muted colors, and refrain from making any sudden movements. Once the birds understand you are not a threat, you'll have a better chance of photographing their natural behavior.
Question 4: I have a silly question about photo umbrellas. When setting up the flash stand, should I ever shoot through the umbrella, or should I bounce the light off the umbrella back onto the subject?
Answer: I actually prefer shooting through a white umbrella as it's perfect for creating nice big catch lights in the eyes. Essentially, it's very similar to using a softbox as the quality of the flash will be quite diffused.
Question 5: I recently got an umbrella but don't know where to find the right brackets to attach it to a stand.
Answer: The piece you are looking for is called an "Umbrella Bracket Adapter". It will fit on almost any light stand, tilts and swivels to make aiming the light or flash easy. At just under $20, it's an inexpensive, but extremely helpful accessory.
Question 6: I have a quick question. Do you have any suggestions for factors to consider when selecting compact flash cards? Are some brands more reliable or better quality than others?
Answer: Memory cards are an important consideration as it's essentially your "film", and needs to be 100% reliable. I have always used Lexar, and haven’t had a single issue so I only purchase their cards. Several photographers I know also speak very highly of SanDisk. Any other brand is a gamble. Considering how the price of memory has come down dramatically in the last 12-24 months, you are much better off with the name brands I mentioned. Also, I prefer the 32GB and 64GB sized cards, but don't usually recommend anything larger. Remember the old saying, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket”. If a card should get damaged, lost or stolen, you won’t lose all of your work.
Question 7: Would you recommend an extended warranty on the camera?
Answer: I only purchased an extended warranty one time, for a super telephoto lens. For about $300, the store added 3 years to the standard 1 year warranty provided by the manufacturer. After 3 years and 2 months, the tripod collar broke. The estimate for the repair was several hundred dollars. I found a $6 replacement part on eBay and have been using the lens with no problem ever since. That was the last time I purchased an extended warranty.
Question 8: What kind of flash do you recommend?
Answer: Believe it or not, the pop-up flash on most DSLRs is quite useful if you learn how to work within its limitations. For certain genres of photography, like portraiture and events, you will want a more powerful "external" flash. I strongly encourage you to stay away from third party brands like Vivitar, and stick with a dedicated unit. By dedicated, I'm referring to the same brand that makes your camera. The current line of flash units are incredibly sophisticated without being overly complicated to use.
Question 9: What do you think is the definition of a Pro Photographer?
Answer: Avoid categorizing yourself with labels, or engaging in debates that seek to define terms such as “professional” and “amateur”. A good photographer is not concerned with these phrases, but rather focuses on their craft. The word amateur is often does not imply a lack of skill. The actual definition is "to do something for the love of". This is the spirit that all professionals should strive to retain throughout their career.